WASHINGTON – Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, said this week that he is more likely to run for the open governor’s seat in 2002 than to challenge Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, for the Senate in 2000.
In interviews this week, Ehrlich said that the poor showing by Maryland Republicans in last fall’s elections would make it hard for a Republican like himself to run a statewide race against an incumbent like Sarbanes. By contrast, Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening cannot run for re-election in 2002.
“A Republican statewide candidate most likely has a better chance to capture an open seat as opposed to defeating an incumbent Democrat,” Ehrlich told washingtonpost.com’s Live Online Thursday.
He said he expects to make an official decision on the Senate race by late this fall. He faces re-election to his House seat in 2000 if he opts out of a Senate campaign.
If he does back away from the Senate race, Republicans would lose the candidate who was widely seen as their best hope against Sarbanes, a four-term incumbent.
“Ehrlich would be a stronger challenger than anyone [Sarbanes] has seen,” said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. in Columbia. “But it’s going to be tough for anyone to beat the incumbent Democrat.”
Coker said Ehrlich is probably a better statewide candidate than any of Maryland’s other congressional representatives because he is the only one who has traveled the entire state extensively, getting to know the different districts.
But because Ehrlich has not yet raised “serious” money, Coker says it makes sense for him to go for the governor’s seat, where he has a better chance of winning.
Still, Coker predicted that if Ehrlich “runs for any statewide office, he will be the front-runner and get the party’s support.”
Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, has also refused to rule out a run for the Senate and is expected to make a final decision this fall, an aide told CNS. Her interest in the race could keep Ehrlich out.
“We would not run against each other,” Ehrlich told CNS.
Whether he runs for senator or governor, Ehrlich acknowledged that the state’s Republican Party will have to work hard to recover from Ellen Sauerbrey’s loss in the 1998 gubernatorial race.
“Obviously, a lot of damage occurred in November,” Ehrlich said Friday.
He said his party’s ability to win a statewide race so close to Sauerbrey’s loss would be a factor in his decision to run for the Senate.
“If I stay put and I consider the governor’s race, I wouldn’t have to declare until after the elections in 2000,” he said.
In addition to timing, Ehrlich said he will take national politics and his family into consideration before deciding on either race.
— CNS reporter Jason Garcia contributed to this story.