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As moms and legal minds, first ladies Kendel Ehrlich and Katie O'Malley have much in common. Yet the campaign divide is wide.

Except for the campaign, Maryland first ladies Kendel Ehrlich and Katie O'malley have much in common.

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By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kendel Ehrlich is perched high on a swivel chair in the dimly lit radio studio at WBAL, wearing Levis and a pink T-shirt that displays her husband's campaign logo. The black leather purse below her feet is plastered with a campaign bumper sticker.

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It's two weeks before her husband, the former Republican governor of Maryland, goes up against the incumbent Democrat on Nov. 2, and Kendel gets right to the point in opening her eponymous Saturday morning talk show.

"If you're looking for fair and balanced, you're not going to find it here," she says, declaring Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., the "big winner" of the Washington Post-sponsored debate two days earlier, and reminding listeners several times over the two-hour show, "I'm not objective, in case you didn't know."

A few miles away in downtown Baltimore the previous week, Katie O'Malley has slipped off her black judicial robe in the chambers of the Eastside District Court Building to headline a symposium on domestic violence. Standing before a room filled with female social workers, Katie tells the haunting story of a friend she invited to spend the night at the governor's mansion because the woman was worried she was being followed by her abusive husband.

Katie laments the legal and societal barriers to helping victims escape abusive relationships while praising the policy changes that better protect them, put in place by Maryland's governor, who -- she notes after a brief pause -- is her husband, Martin O'Malley.

Because of her position as a judge, she tells the crowd, "I'm not allowed to campaign for him or say, 'Please vote for him,' so I won't do that. But I can tell you how hard he's worked."

Born a year apart, Kendel Sibiski Ehrlich and Catherine Curran O'Malley have much in common. They are graduates of the University of Baltimore Law School; both are former prosecutors, Ehrlich in Harford County and O'Malley in Baltimore County. Both women have raised young children in the fishbowl of Maryland politics, Ehrlich two and O'Malley four. And they've slept in the same bedroom of the stately brick mansion on State Circle.

On the sidelines of their children's sporting events, they might have been pals. They have mutual friends and sometimes run into each other at a Starbucks in Annapolis. But in the throes of their husbands' long partisan and personal rivalry and their own frosty relations, that's not possible.

Beyond a ceremonial role

The Ehrlichs have long been partners in politics, marrying just months before Bob Ehrlich announced his candidacy for Congress in 1993. They revealed her pregnancy with their youngest son at a State House news conference. When a reporter asked whether it was planned, Bob said "no" and Kendel said "yes."

The political package was solidified in the four years the Ehrlichs spent out of office through the couple's weekly radio show, a mix of playful banter, political commentary and a little payback after the bitter loss. Kendel went solo last spring when her husband decided to get back in the race. She also earned $45,686 for her service as a member of the board of Bank of Annapolis, according to 2009 tax returns.

The former Republican governor has said he probably would not have tried to win back his job if not for his wife's urging. Kendel sensed an opportunity from callers to their radio program aching for a two-party system of government and from the politically frustrated women she encountered at Republican club meetings.

"I'm very much a person who says, 'You don't live thinking, oh, I wish I had done that,' " Kendel said. "I thought the state was worth saving."


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