In a new twist on the adage "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," the Maryland Republican Party recently began quietly trying to recruit key Democratic senators to cross party lines.

Republicans from the administration and campaign of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. talked with Sens. John C. Astle and James E. DeGrange Sr., Anne Arundel Democrats, in hopes of persuading them to defect.

Astle said the effort to turn him was made by Ehrlich Communications Director Paul E. Schurick, Deputy Chief of Staff Edward Miller and campaign money man Richard Hug over sandwiches at 49 West, a downtown Annapolis eatery.

Hug confirmed the meeting but would not discuss the conversation.

"It could have been about a lot of things," he said.

Astle called the meeting cordial and flattering, but he said he saw no reason after decades as a Democrat to change his spots.

DeGrange said he was approached by a GOP friend, whom he would not name, and asked to consider a switch.

"I said I might not always agree with the left of my party, but I have serious problems with the right of theirs," DeGrange said.

He said he was invited to lunch to discuss it further: "I said I'd have lunch with them, sure, but I wasn't changing parties."

Efforts to draw state senators across party lines are nothing new in Annapolis, given that so much depends on the split in the chamber. Republicans have 14 members and would need five more to prevent Democrats from overriding an Ehrlich veto or to keep a filibuster alive.

In 1999, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) persuaded then-Sen. Robert R. Neall (Anne Arundel) to leave the Republicans for a leadership position in a body dominated by Democrats. Neall was defeated by Republican Janet Greenip in his next election bid.

Miller said Friday that he knew about the GOP efforts but was not the least bit concerned.

"If you're in the majority, you're in a policymaking position," Miller said. "And both Astle and DeGrange are in leadership positions. Both of them have a major role."

Miller said he understands why Republicans are trying.

"It's obvious that they have a light bench," Miller said. "If they were successful in converting members, it would enable Bob Ehrlich to save a lot of campaign expenditures in trying to defeat incumbents who have a good reputation for public service."

Tell Us What You See?

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. took to the links last week to participate in the Booz Allen Classic Pro-Am golf tournament, playing the Congressional Country Club course with two former congressional colleagues.

His choice of company prompted lots of chatter in Annapolis, especially after a photo appeared in Thursday's Washington Post showing Ehrlich on the fairway with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), at right above. (Rep. Michael G. Oxley, an Ohio Republican, and two caddies also are pictured.)

Rather than try to divine the significance of the gathering, we invited the chairmen of Maryland's Republican and Democratic parties to provide captions.

Both gladly accepted the chance to take a swing. Democratic Chairman Terry Lierman took a poetic approach to the task; Republican John Kane opted for more of a brainteaser.

Lierman's caption: "Golfing With DeLay Beats Governing Any Day!"

Kane's: "Hey, do you know who MD4BUSH is?"