WASHINGTON – Staffers for Rep. Bob Ehrlich, R-Timonium, confirmed Friday that they are busy hiring campaigners, raising money and brainstorming strategies for their boss’s all-but-certain run for governor in Maryland.
“He’s not going public with any decision right now, but we’re definitely gearing up for this race,” said Steve Kreseski, Ehrlich’s chief of staff.
It is the most definitive statement yet from within Ehrlich’s camp about a candidacy that has been subject of speculation for months. Ehrlich still has not made any official declarations, but Kreseski said Friday that the four-term congressman was “predisposed” to step into this year’s race.
It comes as a new poll indicates a surge of support for President Bush in traditionally Democratic Maryland, where the president’s job approval ratings have gone from 47 percent last February to 74 percent this month.
“Does that translate to support for other Republican candidates? I don’t know. It hasn’t been tried,” said Carol Arscott of Gonzales/Arscott Research and Communications Inc., which did the survey.
“What I could say is that it wouldn’t hurt any Maryland candidate for office to appear with President Bush right now,” Arscott said.
Kreseski said the president has already expressed interest in personally helping with Ehrlich’s fund-raising. Ehrlich has raised about $1.6 million so far, compared with over $4 million raised by the Democratic frontrunner, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
An aide to Townsend declined to comment Friday on the possibility that Ehrlich will run.
“We won’t speculate on anyone’s future who hasn’t declared his intentions yet,” said Alan Fleischmann, Townsend’s chief of staff. He said Townsend is currently focused on legislative and other state issues, not on running for governor.
The Gonzales/Arscott poll, released this week, showed Townsend leading Ehrlich by 15 points — 50 percent to 35 percent — with 15 percent undecided. That was a narrower margin than in September, when another poll by the same firm had Ehrlich trailing by 23 points.
The biggest problem about challenging Townsend in any race is the “out-of- state Kennedy juggernaut,” said Paul Schurick, Ehrlich’s political director. Townsend is the daughter of slain Sen. Robert Kennedy and niece of current Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
“If we get in this race, our strategy will be to frame it as a competition between Bob Ehrlich and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend — not Bob Ehrlich vs. Camelot, or Bob Ehrlich vs. Ed Kennedy,” Schurick said. “If we can actually match up their records, their stories and their achievements, we believe we can be successful.”
Delegate Alfred Redmer Jr., R-Baltimore County, said he hopes Ehrlich takes the plunge.
“With the fiscal problems we have in Maryland, people are beginning to realize that just anybody can’t be governor,” Redmer said. “And with the events of Sept. 11, we need somebody who can make the difficult decisions that have to be made. . . . I think Bob has a great chance.”
Kreseski said Ehrlich will not be swayed by congressional redistricting plans that Gov. Parris Glendening is preparing to present to the General Assembly.
“We’re getting ready to run,” Kreseski said.
Many expect the Democratic governor and Democrat-controlled legislature to redraw Ehrlich’s 2nd District to make it harder for him to win re-election.
As of Friday, the only gubernatorial candidate registered with the State Board of Elections was Ross Z. Pierpont, a veteran Republican office-seeker from Baltimore. The official deadline for filing for candidacy is July 1.