Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) toed the presidential waters on Saturday, appearing in New Hampshire, home to the first primary in the race for the 2016 Republican nomination.
Ehrlich spoke at a lobster bake in Laconia, N.H., hosted by a group of Young Republicans. On Friday, he gave remarks to a GOP dinner in Nashua, N.H., and met with state party volunteers.
According to Andrew Georgevits, the lobster bake’s organizer, about 100 people attended the event.
Ehrlich, 56, a former congressman who served one term as Maryland’s governor, said in a phone interview that he is, for the moment, simply looking to reenter the national political fray after keeping a low profile in recent years as he has practiced law and hosted a talk-radio program.
“It’s been really nice,” Ehrlich said on Saturday. “Obviously, people in New Hampshire don’t really know me, so they’re listening to what I have to say and taking it all in.”
“I’m rusty,” he added with a chuckle. “I haven’t done this in a while. But I would like to be a voice that’s heard not just in Maryland but in the country.”
Ehrlich said his still-evolving pitch is mostly “pragmatic” and about the need for “problem-solvers,” rather than ideological hardliners, to rise in the GOP so that the party could draw increased support from women and blue-state skeptics.
Riffing on foreign policy is another facet, and he said he disagrees with conservatives who have an “isolationist drift” in their worldview.
Republicans at both the state and national level said Ehrlich faces daunting odds should his late summer flirtation with a White House bid ever morph in to a presidential campaign.
“Does he have the funds? That’ll be one issue regarding his credibility,” said Brian Griset, town chair of the GOP in Exeter, N.H. “The other is whether he can speak and offer a forward direction. If you do that, you can catch on, but I know very little about him.”
Ehrlich was invited to New Hampshire by Matt Mayberry, a Republican businessman from Dover, N.H., who believes Ehrlich could be a dark-horse presidential candidate.
Mayberry said he mapped out a busy schedule for Ehrlich outside of the speeches, including a Saturday breakfast with about 30 activists and Juliana Bergeron, a member of the Republican National Committee.
Later Saturday, Ehrlich was set to attend a chili cookout in Strafford County, N.H., before returning to Baltimore.
“No one heard about Bill Clinton on his first trip to New Hampshire,” Mayberry said. “I showed Mike Huckabee around the state years before he ran and no one knew him then, either. At this point in a race that looks wide open, it’s all about house parties and meeting people -- and Bob’s doing that.
Greg Massoni, a longtime Ehrlich confidant and political adviser who once served as Ehrlich’s gubernatorial spokesman, accompanied him from stop to stop.
Ehrlich said family considerations will ultimately determine whether he will do more than toy with the idea of running for president.
“I’m practicing with King and Spalding, that’s where my focus remains and that’s my job,” he said. “And I don’t miss my kids’ games. That’s a rule in our family and by being here today, I’ve already, unfortunately, missed a Gilman Greyhounds game.”
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who defeated Ehrlich in 2006 and again — by more than 14 percentage points -- in 2010, has also been taking trips to New Hampshire as he explores his own potential presidential campaign,. To lay the groundwork for a run, he has sent his political aides there to assist Democratic campaigns ahead of November’s midterm elections.
On Sept. 26, O’Malley will give the keynote address at a Democratic dinner in Portsmouth, N.H., coming only weeks after his previous visit to the state to raise money for Democrats.
“He’s all over,” said Raymond Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, in an interview earlier this year. “He has built up significant goodwill.”
But O’Malley, in spite of his early work in key primary states and popularity with some grassroots Democrats, faces challenges as well.
Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is in Iowa this weekend, is the undeclared front-runner for the 2016 Democratic nomination and far outpaces him in early polling.
Beyond Ehrlich, a growing crowd of Republicans have been traveling to New Hampshire, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who was there on Thursday and Friday campaigning for Republican Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator now running against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). Paul drew a standing ovation and a raucous reception, according to local reports.
Republicans such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, among others, have also made trips in past weeks.
Ehrlich said he has spent much of this year promoting his 2013 political manifesto, “America: Hope for Change.” Former New Hampshire governor John H. Sununu, a GOP powerbroker in the Granite State, wrote a glowing review for the book’s jacket; former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) penned its forward.
Georgevits said he appreciated Ehrlich’s visit, but was unfamiliar with his politics and unsure of whether the former governor could be a viable presidential contender.
“Everybody with national ambition comes to New Hampshire,” Georgevits said. “A friend of mine said he was coming to town and asked whether we wanted to see him. We said, ‘sure,’ and that’s about it.”