Ehrlich is expected to run a competitive campaign for Maryland governor

Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. hopes to reclaim the job of Maryland governor from Democrat Martin O'Malley.
Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. hopes to reclaim the job of Maryland governor from Democrat Martin O'Malley. (2007 Photo By Susan Biddle/the Washington Post)
By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 4, 2010

As soon as former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced that he was running for governor, the race was seen by national Republicans as another possible high-profile pickup, a view almost immediately shared by political prognosticators.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report adjusted its rating of the race Thursday from solidly Democratic to one short of "Toss Up" -- saying Ehrlich is expected to run a "competitive" contest against Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

Yet for Ehrlich to break the race open, he will probably have to find a model for success that differs from other Republicans'.

He doesn't fit the mold of political newcomer that prevailed in November in New Jersey, Massachusetts and, to a lesser degree, Virginia.

And unlike other members of a rare class of five former governors well positioned this year to win back their old jobs, Ehrlich's course is more perilous. He isn't running for an open seat or even one with an unpopular incumbent. O'Malley is an adept campaigner who has decent approval ratings, millions in the bank and the support of a party that holds more than a 2-to-1 majority among registered voters.

Having governed in better economic times, Ehrlich also has a record of increasing spending at a faster rate than O'Malley and going along with an increase in the property tax rate that might do little to inspire the party faithful or independents concerned about the growing reach of government.

"What's different for Bob Ehrlich?" asked Jennifer E. Duffy, a senior editor for the Cook Political Report. "Why does he think that Maryland has changed to the degree that it will reelect him? The answer is not yet clear."

Evolving formula

National Republican strategists polled last week shrugged off such questions, saying that the winning formula for Republican gubernatorial candidates is evolving and that Ehrlich will more than fit the bill.

"People across the board want competence," said Ron Kaufman, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. "If 'change' was the word in '09, I believe 'competence' will be the word in 2010."

"Competence," echoed Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, who is credited with helping chart the course that led to the GOP gubernatorial wins in the fall. Ayers said, "Ultimately, governor's races are about governors' records. . . . It will come down to 'Who do you trust with our state's checkbook?' "

Four other former governors -- Roy Barnes (D) of Georgia, Terry Branstad (R) of Iowa, Edmund G. Brown Jr. (D) of California and John A. Kitzhaber (D) of Oregon -- are running largely on similar themes, arguing that they've done the job once and can do it again. All but Branstad are running for open seats, and he has a large lead in polls over Gov. Chet Culver (D).

Ehrlich has promised a forward-looking vision with new ideas for the state and has scheduled his official campaign kickoff for Wednesday morning in Rockville. But it remains to be seen how he will shape his campaign to close a disparity in polls taken earlier this year that showed him trailing by about the same six-point difference he lost by in 2006.

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