Ehrlich run might not make sense
Later this month, the stage will be set for a grudge rematch between "Bobby Football" and the Irish tenor who moonlights as Maryland's governor.
There's little doubt former Gov. Bob Ehrlich intends to take on incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley in a repeat of their 2006 slugfest. Once again, it will be the sports-loving ex-college linebacker versus the guitar-strumming troubadour.
Yet, this could be a fool's errand for Ehrlich. The Republican may be getting into a battle he cannot win. Maryland is one of the nation's most heavily Democratic states. Every positive reason for seeking the governorship this year comes with a negative as to why Ehrlich should resist the temptation.
Let's examine some of the points raised by Ehrlich backers in urging him to run, and why the outlook may be bleaker than they suspect.
1) National voter discontent and rising anger toward elected officials could sweep through Maryland, too, giving Ehrlich a prime advantage as the outsider challenging an entrenched Democratic monopoly.
But by November, public sentiment could shift dramatically. The economy already is showing signs of adding, not losing, jobs. Voter rage toward incumbents could cool considerably. After all, public opinion is notoriously fickle. If O'Malley has good news to report on unemployment, job creation and revenue gains in the next eight months as seems likely he, not Ehrlich, benefits.
2) O'Malley's poll numbers still don't top 50 percent, though he's been in office three years. There's a degree of public unease about the Democratic governor even among his supporters.
At the same time, Ehrlich has not closed the gap over the past 36 months. He remains roughly 6 to 10 percentage points behind, according to recent polls. He still has not made inroads into O'Malley's considerable base of support.
3) Ehrlich already is well known throughout the state, which means he doesn't need to raise anywhere near as much money as he did as a challenger in 2002. It also means Ehrlich won't be devoting huge blocks of time to fundraising.
But O'Malley will have a clear money advantage. He's already got $6 million in hand. The state Democratic Party and special-interest groups will pour millions more into defeating Ehrlich. Additionally, government communications offices crank out waves of promotional material for O'Malley every day at taxpayer expense.
4) Ehrlich is wildly popular with the Tea Party movement in Maryland, which gives him a new group of super-enthusiastic supporters.
But their votes won't win him the election. Tea Party members have been in Ehrlich's corner all along. Casting his lot with anti-government malcontents could drive away moderate Democratic and independent voters.
5) With Barack Obama's name missing from the November ballot, there could be a low turnout among minority voters. This would greatly benefit Ehrlich, who needs to keep vote totals low in big Democratic counties.
But in Maryland's second most-populous jurisdiction, majority-black Prince George's County, the race for county executive, among other local offices, is intense. A large turnout could result, which is bad news for Ehrlich.
6) Ehrlich will portray O'Malley as a big-spending liberal whose actions exacerbated Maryland's deficit woes.
But Ehrlich, too, was a big-spending governor in his final two years. He shares part of the blame for Maryland's record deficit.
7) As a conservative Republican, Ehrlich can say he is ideally suited to cut state spending dramatically and end Maryland's chronic structural deficit.
But when Ehrlich had his chance to chop the state budget as governor, he failed. Indeed, he left office with two consecutive budgets that ballooned state spending by nearly 10 percent. That's hardly responsible stewardship.
8) O'Malley raised taxes by record amounts and royally messed up efforts to open revenue-generating slots facilities. Ehrlich as he did during his first campaign in 2002 will seek more slots sites and more gambling options to offset the need for higher taxes.
But when Ehrlich was governor, he raised levies on the public through higher fees for government services an indirect form of taxation. He also badly botched his chance to legalize slots. This created ill will with Democratic leaders in the House and Senate and four years of gridlock a bitter memory for many voters.
9) For Ehrlich and his wife, this might be the perfect moment to avenge the lone defeat of his political career and try again to establish a viable opposition party. Ehrlich could be the Simon Bolivar of Maryland, liberating his state from the tyranny of one-party rule.
But even if he wins, look at the debacle he'd inherit: Huge, billion-dollar deficits far into the future; unsustainable pension and health commitments, and a near certainty that some taxes must be raised to balance the state budget.
With Democrats maintaining a lopsided majority in the legislature, harsh partisanship and stiff legislative resistance could be the rule rather than the exception in a second Ehrlich term.
Given the glum fiscal outlook, the winner in the O'Malley-Ehrlich election this fall actually could be the loser. Who'd want to govern during four years of painful budget choices? There won't be adequate resources to address the many pressing problems facing Maryland.
Barry Rascovar is a State House columnist and communications consultant. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.