WASHINGTON – When Kenneth T. Bosley told his fellow Rotary Club members that he was the Democratic nominee for Maryland’s 2nd District congressional seat, they were interested.
When he told them he was running against Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, they laughed.
“He is going to get three votes,” said fellow Rotarian Dave Smith when Bosley got up from the table, “himself, his wife and his neighbor.”
Despite its heavily Democratic registration, the 2nd District has been held by Republicans for the past 14 years, four of those under Ehrlich.
And Bosley, a political newcomer who has not accepted any campaign contributions, faces a well-financed young Republican in Ehrlich, who was voted one of the “hunks” of Congress by Washingtonian magazine in his first term.
“Bob is sort of the golden boy,” said Blair Lee, a commentator on Maryland politics. “He’s going to use this election as a dress-rehearsal for the U.S. Senate race.”
Ehrlich is coy when asked about a possible Senate run in 2000. He will make that decision next year, he said, adding that he is focusing now on this election.
And Bosley, for his part, is confident he can win, just as he won a four-way Democratic primary with 45 percent of the vote.
“I think it’s easy to beat Ehrlich because he’s never been in the military,” said Bosley, an Air Force veteran, “and he doesn’t know what the issues are that people want.
“And he’s never lived through the [Great] Depression,” said Bosley, 68, who was born and raised on a Sparks farm.
Bosley, who still lives and farms in Sparks today, said it was a threat to the family farm that drove him to run for Congress. After losing parts of the farm to developers, Bosley said he understands what “development cancer” can do to small-farm owners.
One of his priorities in Congress would be to prohibit development of more than 10 acres of open space and farmland within 60 miles of a city. Besides easing pressure on small farmers, he said, such restrictions would also protect the environment and reduce crowding in schools and on highways.
Much of Bosley’s platform focuses on elderly issues. He says he would work to eliminate taxes on Social Security benefits and pension income and push for a law to let elderly witnesses in court cases select morning hours to testify.
He makes much in his campaign literature of his long-lived farm family — one of 10 children born on a dairy farm, Bosley said he has “much older” siblings in their 80s. His mother lived to 85 and his father to 100, he said.
According to Bosley’s resume, he has worked on everything from trucks to the Saturn V rocket program, taught high school biology and shop, been a lifelong farmer and spent 38 years in the Air Force and Reserves.
Ehrlich’s resume, by contrast, seems to be all law, politics — and sports.
He was a football captain at both Gilman School in Baltimore and at Princeton University, and was a football coaching assistant while attending law school at Wake Forest University.
Ehrlich, 41, says he is attracted to politics because of its similarities to athletics — it’s competitive, requires hard work and preparation and there’s a winner and a loser.
Ehrlich’s father said Robert Jr. has been interested in government and politics since he was about 11 years old and growing up in the family’s Arbutus row house.
“I brainwashed him to be a conservative Republican,” joked Robert Ehrlich Sr., a retired car salesman.
The elder Ehrlich remembers going door- to-door with his wife, Nancy, and their then 28-year-old son in Bobby’s first run for office. In that 1986 race, the younger Ehrlich unseated Tom Chamberlan, a 12-year member of the Maryland House of Delegates.
“That was quite a thing for a completely unknown kid going in and knocking off a 12- year incumbent,” Ehrlich Sr. said.
Delegate D. Bruce Poole, D-Hagerstown, described Ehrlich Jr. as a bridge-builder between parties in the State House and a “hard-working guy.”
“When I served with him, I guess it was just a different time … because partisan politics just wasn’t a part of Annapolis,” said Poole.
“You didn’t think of Bob as a Republican,” he said. “He was just a guy from Baltimore County that was expressing his view.”
Ehrlich was elected to Congress on his first try in 1994, succeeding Rep. Helen Delich Bentley when she mounted an unsuccessful bid for governor.
The two-term congressman said he supports small business and wants to limit government growth. He also wants to increase defense spending and reform welfare and federal housing programs.
His 1998 voting record earned him a 93 percent rating from the National Federation of Independent Businesses and an approval rating of 90 percent from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“He’s been a great member of Congress for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and our members, especially the small businesses,” said Cecelia Adams, the chamber’s director of congressional and public affairs.
Ehrlich’s record earned only a 25 percent rating from the American Civil Liberties Union, however, and a 28 from the League of Conservation Voters.
“There are other Republicans in Maryland who really score outstanding … and we’re hoping that Congressman Ehrlich will soon start following suit,” said Lisa Wade, communications director for the league.
Political action committees have provided Ehrlich with about half of his comfortable campaign war chest: He had $248,582 on hand as of Sept. 30, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Bosley has not reported any contributions to the FEC. He said he has not accepted any campaign contributions because he does not want to be obligated to anyone.
Despite Ehrlich’s advantages in name- recognition and finances, he, like Bosley, is running a low-key campaign this year. Neither man is spending a lot of money, preferring instead to go door to door and speak directly with voters.
But while 2nd District voter registration was 60.8 percent Democratic as of July, most observers said the Democratic candidate has his work cut out for him.
Lee said he did not even know who Ehrlich was up against and that he expects all of Maryland’s congressional incumbents to be re-elected this year. That prediction was echoed by John Kohut, a senior editor for the Rothenberg Political Report.
Kohut said the 2nd District — which includes rural Harford County, the blue- collar Baltimore suburbs of Dundalk and Essex, and wealthier enclaves like Lutherville and Timonium — is “pretty much dead” as far as the congressional race is concerned.
“Maryland is a great example that this year it’s great to be an incumbent,” said Kohut.