IT'S HARDLY reality TV, but there on the screen -- in shirt sleeves and tie and squatting with a caulking gun in a stranger's bathtub -- is Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). He's just barged in and volunteered to "finish up here" so the surprised homeowner can go play golf in Maryland. In another TV spot -- part of a $1.4 million advertising blitz described as promoting tourism but focused on boosting the governor -- Mr. Ehrlich is right there to offer more help to an astonished woman with paint roller at the ready. Elsewhere, looking natty in suit, tie and tool belt, "Governor Bob," as he's called in the voice-over message, pops in on a couple to finish installing a ceiling fan so they can go to Maryland on a "romantic getaway." As he climbs the ladder he asks, "Do other governors go this far? I think not."
He may be right. His TV self-promos, purportedly aimed at out-of-state markets, are aired on stations throughout Maryland. According to a report by The Post's Matthew Mosk, Mr. Ehrlich's communications director is launching a marketing campaign designed to bring "maximum exposure" to the governor and his programs. While jobs in various state offices are being eliminated, Communications Director Paul E. Schurick boasts in a memo of "a statewide [italics ours] communications and marketing structure unlike any this or, to my knowledge, any other state has attempted."
If so, it's a mixed blessing. Dennis M. Castleman, the state's chief marketing officer and assistant secretary for tourism, says TV spots with the governor cost $374,000 to produce, for a campaign that includes $794,000 in media spots, $159,000 on print ads and $60,000 for Web site material. Ed Blakely, a former Alexandria advertising executive hired to join the Ehrlich PR platoon, says his mission is to "make sure the citizens of Maryland know the government is going to be well managed and that they have a governor who has taken an interest in that." Not everybody will buy that. But every Maryland taxpayer will have to pay for it.