ANNAPOLIS – U.S. Rep. Connie Morella, Montgomery County’s popular Republican representative, is being touted as a possible Maryland gubernatorial candidate in 2002, with U.S. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, as her running mate.
Maryland GOP officials are talking up a Morella-Gilchrest ticket, and the two are doing nothing to deny the possibility.
“Connie is keeping her options open” said spokesman Jonathon Dean.
Gilchrest also gave a non-denial.
“I think it would make a fascinating team,” said Gilchrest. “You realize what you can do as an elected official . . . and you realize how much more you could do in the governor’s chair.”
While most in the GOP are expecting U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, to carry the party’s torch next year, Ehrlich has said he won’t announce his intentions until late spring or early summer.
That’s too late, say some Republicans, who are worried Ehrlich may decide not to run, leaving little time for another candidate to gather support.
However, the party can’t afford a bruising and expensive primary battle, said state Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele. Steele wants the GOP to have a have a strong top of the ticket early on to build unity and name recognition against the best known of likely Democratic candidates, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
A Townsend spokesman said they would not comment on rumors.
Republicans in the General Assembly also are hoping for a late March announcement from Ehrlich, said Senate Minority Leader Martin Madden, R-Howard. After that, Madden said, state legislators will have to sort out whom to support.
Ehrlich had no comment on Morella and Gilchrest’s possible run, a spokesman said.
It’s not clear, at this point, whether talk of a Morella-Gilchrest campaign is designed to pressure Ehrlich into making a decision or push him out of the race in favor of a more moderate Morella.
Morella, first elected to Congress in 1986, is a bit of an anomaly in the state: an unbeatable Republican in one of the state’s Democratic strongholds. Morella’s 8th Congressional District went stronger for Al Gore, 60 percent, than the statewide tally, 56 percent, in the 2000 presidential election. Bush garnered just 36 percent there, less than his statewide total of 40 percent.
In representing her constituents, Morella has consistently fallen out of step with her party’s national leadership on a number of hot-button issues such as abortion and gun control.
But, if Morella runs for governor, those positions could help her in the larger urban and suburban districts, districts that Republican Ellen Sauerbrey lost to Gov. Parris N. Glendening in the previous two elections.
“Connie . . . might be able to attract Democratic votes that a conservative candidate couldn’t,” said Sauerbrey. “Hopefully, moderate and conservative voters would recognize that she would be closer to their point of view than the Democratic alternative.”
Gilchrest is considered more of a conservative, but brings a strong environmental record that also may appeal to the state’s moderates and independents.
Glendening won with a razor-thin margin in 1994, getting a majority of votes in only Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore.
In 1998, Glendening added Allegany and Howard counties to his margin, but the overall percentage increased by 10 percent.
There are other reasons a governor’s race might appeal to Morella. She has typically gotten 60 percent or better against her opponents, but that changed in 2000. Morella won just 52 percent of the vote over Democrat Terry Lierman, even after Lierman faced questions over a questionable loan to a Virginia congressman.
Lierman announced he will not run against Morella in 2002.
Montgomery County Democrats are lining up to challenge Morella’s congressional seat, including Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Montgomery, and Delegate Mark Shriver, D-Montgomery.
Redistricting could make it even more difficult for Morella, and also affect many other Maryland Republicans. The governor and Democratically controlled General Assembly will soon redraw the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts, and Republicans are worried those lines won’t do them any favors.
In Morella’s case, parts of the very Democratic 4th District would be pulled into Morella’s district, making it more likely a Democrat could defeat her, according to Sauerbrey.
In that case, Morella would have nothing to lose by running for governor, Sauerbrey said.
Gilchrest could also face redistricting problems if his district is combined with Ehrlich’s. Ehrlich has said he won’t run against another Republican, and Gilchrest on a gubernatorial ticket would eliminate that problem.
– 30 – CNS-03-07-01