As the national political season heats up, so too will the political activities of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has always been a loyal soldier in the GOP army.

Ehrlich has been in regular contact with President Bush's campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, and was advised last week to block out a significant stretch of time for campaigning in mid-October.

The governor has not been given a specific assignment but said Monday that he expects it will involve a combination of stumping with the president and speaking in key swing states on his behalf.

Although Ehrlich's role will be prominent, it will in all likelihood continue to seem modest when compared with that of Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. Campaigning for the president has taken Steele to Miami and Cleveland, and he recently snagged a prime speaking role at the Republican National Convention.

Ehrlich said Monday that he might have enjoyed speaking at the big event in Manhattan but agrees that Steele is a more appropriate choice under the circumstances. "And you're not going to have two of us speaking from Maryland," he said.

Steele helps Republicans show the nation that the party has a place for upwardly mobile African American business executives, Ehrlich said.

Stumping for Duncan

The Democratic National Convention had its own Maryland subplot -- this one involving the 2006 primary for governor. For members of the state's congressional delegation, the convention seemed to present an opportunity to promote a candidate for governor.

For some, that meant gushing about the attributes of Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, while others showered attention and praise on Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley -- the two likely contenders for the Democratic nomination.

O'Malley, who spoke to the convention July 28, received the bulk of the media attention in Boston, but suburban Washington congressmen Albert R. Wynn and Chris Van Hollen made sure to talk up Duncan to party activists.

At a breakfast meeting of Maryland delegates July 29, Van Hollen, who represents much of Montgomery County and a slice of Prince George's, told the crowd that Duncan stands for Democratic values. "He really has made sure every part of Montgomery and parts of the state have benefited from what we in the Democratic Party believe in," Van Hollen said.

Wynn, whose district includes parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, went even further. "I want to thank you for being the backbone of the Maryland Democratic Party," said Wynn, who is supporting Duncan over O'Malley.

"The rubber is hitting the road in terms of education thanks to Doug Duncan," Wynn continued.

Then, with O'Malley sitting a few yards away, Wynn referred to Duncan as "Governor Duncan."

"I'm sorry, County Executive Duncan," Wynn said, smiling.

O'Malley did not look pleased. But the Baltimore mayor has his own boosters. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger -- who represents parts of Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties -- said he thinks O'Malley is unbeatable should he choose to run.

"No one lights up a room like Martin does," Ruppersberger said.

Del. Kullen Sworn In

Democrat P. Sue Kullen was sworn in Wednesday as the successor to George W. Owings III in the Maryland House of Delegates, making her the first woman to represent Calvert County in the General Assembly.

Kullen was appointed last month by Ehrlich to replace Owings, who has joined the administration to run the Department of Veterans Affairs. The appointment came after Kullen's nomination by the Calvert County Democratic Central Committee.

Kullen had never held major elective office but emerged as a compromise candidate when members of the Central Committee deadlocked in deciding the nomination. In selecting Kullen, the Central Committee passed over more experienced candidates, such as Hagner R. Mister of Prince Frederick, a former state agriculture secretary and a former president of the county commissioners; Barbara A. Stinnett, a former county commissioner from Owings; and Thomas M. Pelagatti, a Prince Frederick lawyer who is a former judge of the Orphans' Court in Calvert County.

Democrats had wanted Owings's replacement to be a strong candidate to retain the seat in the 2006 election. Owings ran unopposed in 2002. However, Republicans are expected to target the seat in 2006, with Calvert County Board of Commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings) being promoted as a possible GOP candidate.

Kullen, 44, has served 10 years as a governor's appointee on the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. She has vowed to run in 2006 as the incumbent -- and not let down the party faithful. Kullen recently set up her campaign finance committee and, for the first time, will be raising funds for a political campaign.

Mikulski Steers Rural Roads

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) has always surprised the political pundits with her ability to win over rural voters despite her support for gun control regulations and abortion rights. Mikulski won every county in Maryland except Garrett, which is sparsely populated and heavily Republican, during her last two election campaigns.

But with a popular Republican governor in Annapolis, a Republican president at the top of the ticket and a better funded challenger this year, her campaign strategists privately say they expect her to be less successful in Maryland's rural counties this year.

Even so, Mikulski appears unwilling to concede those voters. The three-term senator was one of the few speakers at Maryland delegation meetings to urge party officials to reach out to more conservative parts of the state.

"We cannot give up on the red counties," Mikulski said, referring to those counties that voted for Ehrlich in 2002. "We cannot give up on the rural counties."

Staff writer Ray McCaffrey contributed to this report.