WASHINGTON – Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, told a group of Maryland business leaders Friday that he will try to raise $2 million by the end of the year, which could be a deciding factor in his decision to run for governor in 2002.
Ehrlich also formally announced the formation of an exploratory committee for a possible bid for the GOP nomination for governor.
It’s one of the surest steps yet toward a race by Ehrlich, who has been pushed by party leaders to run, or at least make up his mind so they can recruit another candidate if he decides to run for election to a fifth term from his suburban Baltimore district.
“We had a meeting with our finance committee, and we have decided to make a step forward and form a more formalized group with an exploratory committee,” Ehrlich said Friday.
If he were to win the party’s gubernatorial nomination, Ehrlich would likely face Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is leading all other potential Democratic challengers in the field.
It would not be an easy fight for Ehrlich in heavily Democratic Maryland. An early September poll by Gonzales/Arscott Research and Communications Inc. said that Townsend would get 54 percent and Ehrlich 31 percent of the vote in a race between the two, with 15 percent undecided.
But Carol Arscott, one of the firm’s pollsters, said a 23-point gap now does not mean Ehrlich has no chance.
“I think it’s hard, but I think it’s possible,” Arscott said. In addition to gaining name recognition and drumming up support with Maryland Republicans, Ehrlich will also have to convince Townsend supporters that he’s the man for the job.
“It’s a tough road to hoe for Republicans in Maryland,” she said. “Obviously Ehrlich has information of his own that gives him hope.”
Ehrlich said he is confident in his support from Democrats, and one of the goals of his committee is to find support among prominent Democrats in the state.
“To win in Maryland, you have to have support from Democrats,” Ehrlich said. “You have to have crossover support.”
Ehrlich said raising money would be a big issue because Townsend, as a member of the Kennedy clan, has tremendous financial backing “particularly from Massachusetts.”
Arscott said that while Townsend should have no problem raising money, there are also people who are always ready to give money to keep another Kennedy from being elected, which could help Ehrlich.
Also unknown, Arscott said, is the impact of last week’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Gonzales/Arscott poll was taken in the week before the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Folks say everything changed on Sept. 11, and I think that’s absolutely true,” she said. “We just don’t know the full ramifications yet.”
In a prepared statement Friday, Townsend brushed off the news of an Ehrlich exploratory committee and focused instead on the Sept. 11 attacks.
“There is no partisanship in America now,” the statement said. “Right now I’m happy to be working side by side with Congressman Ehrlich and the entire Maryland congressional delegation on the extraordinary nonpartisan challenge our country is facing, as outlined so eloquently by President Bush last night.”