NEW YORK – With the spotlight focused on Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and his prime-time address to the Republican National Convention, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. spent much of last week operating in relative obscurity.
That was just fine with Ehrlich, who said his low profile was a matter of design.
Ehrlich said his job was to make sure the powers-that-be in the national GOP did not forget that Maryland’s Republicans are gaining influence — a fact they said was illustrated by Steele’s prominent role in the convention.
“Conventions are a combination of business, politics, and pleasure,” Ehrlich said.
In his case, that meant days that included schmoozing on golf and shopping outings, as well as sit-downs with various media outlets and appearances at political events.
On Thursday, after attending a Wednesday evening post-session party for Steele at Manhattan’s popular 40/40 Club, Ehrlich talked politics and took live calls on WBAL for an hour before going to address a packed gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition with Vice President Dick Cheney. Ehrlich was then whisked away for more interviews before going to the convention to hear President Bush’s speech.
Although he was the highest-ranking Maryland official to attend the convention, Ehrlich was not an elected delegate; Steele was both a delegate and deputy permanent co-chair of the convention. That left Ehrlich free to run about town while Steele could stay with the delegation.
Ehrlich said it was all part of the “game plan,” to maximize the effectiveness of the week, and Maryland delegates did not seem to mind that their governor was missing much of the time.
“We know him, he doesn’t need to be with us,” said Havre de Grace Mayor David Craig. “His role is party building, to showcase the state.”
Ehrlich said that role is made easier by the fact that Maryland is so close to Washington that “a lot of people in the administration follow us. It’s nice to know that your old friends follow you around.”
But one expert said that if national leaders were truly following Maryland, they would be skeptical of the delegation’s talk of the state’s newfound prominence in the Republican Party.
Paul S. Herrnson, the director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland, said the governor’s presence at the convention is likely a calculated political move.
“It’s important to the governor’s political career to be seen among other Republicans,” the government and politics professor said. “It’s mostly about politics. I don’t see any benefit to the state.”
While Ehrlich and the Maryland delegation insisted all week that the state is still in play for the presidential election, Herrnson believes the “game plan” will fail.
“Most Republicans realize that Maryland is a Democratic state, and they’d be foolish to invest in the campaign there,” he said.
That did not keep the state’s top elected officials from trying, with Steele’s high convention profile and Ehrlich’s behind-the-scenes work.
“We each play off our own strengths, for the good of our state,” Steele said.
Both men bristled at the suggestion that the lieutenant governor’s high profile somehow reflected on the governor.
“This isn’t a zero-sum game here,” Steele said. “It’s not the governor wins if Michael loses and Michael loses if the governor wins. We go work it and see how Maryland benefits.”
Others in the delegation echoed the sentiment.
“He (Ehrlich) doesn’t have an ego problem,” said Jane Plank of Kensington. “Most politicians have an ego problem.”
-30- CNS 09-07-04