Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Maryland's most powerful Republican, had some strikingly candid advice yesterday for his party's presidential nominee: Don't bother coming here to campaign.

President Bush "needs to be in the states he can potentially win," Ehrlich said during a morning interview on WTOP radio. "He should not, in all likelihood, come to Maryland. My advice to him is not to come to Maryland. . . . We're not terribly competitive."

Ehrlich threw out just one qualification: Maryland, he said, is a good state "for cash."

A poll released last week by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies showed the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, leading Bush in Maryland, 53 percent to 40 percent. Neither candidate has spent much money or time on the state, which neither campaign considers a key battleground in the presidential race.

Still, Ehrlich's acknowledgement was unusual, given that governors often serve as a chief cheerleader for the party ticket. Besides deciding whether Kerry or Bush will get Maryland's 10 electoral votes, state voters will determine the outcome of a U.S. Senate race, eight U.S. House races and a handful of Circuit Court contests on Nov. 2.

Ehrlich, who in 2002 became Maryland's first Republican governor in a generation, said GOP candidates are becoming more viable across the state. But he added, "One election does not a realignment make."

Ehrlich said the "real test" of Republicans' rise in Maryland will come in 2006, when he and all members of the General Assembly are up for reelection.

Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, suggested that 2006 may be the underlying reason Ehrlich is not asking Bush to campaign here.

"Ehrlich doesn't want Bush in Maryland because he doesn't want to be seen with a very unpopular president," White said. "The only reelection Ehrlich is concerned about is his own."

In an interview, Maryland GOP Chairman John Kane, whose charge is to get Republicans elected up and down the ballot, did not dispute Ehrlich's assessment, noting that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland 2 to 1.

"We want to get a win for Bush, but it's not as likely to happen here as in many other states," said Kane, who was traveling to New York in advance of next week's Republican National Convention, where Bush will be officially renominated. "He'd be stupid to spend time here."

Bush, Kane said, "is going to look for the Bush-Cheney reelect team we have here to do the best we can from the grass roots."

Kane said he is determined to turn in a better performance than in 2000, when then-Vice President Al Gore beat Bush in the state by 17 points.

"We're not going to lose by what we did last time," Kane said. "Does that guarantee a win? No."

"He should not, in all likelihood, come to Maryland," said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of President Bush's campaign. "We're not terribly competitive."Maryland GOP head John Kane hopes to better the party's 2000 numbers.