Baltimore County

Arbutus takes visit by Republican presidential candidate in stride

By 10 a.m. Wednesday, Nancy Ehrlich had made sure her home on Dolores Avenue in Arbutus was looking its best.

After all, she wasn't sure whether former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who leads the current pack of candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, would be stopping by.

"We won't know until the last minute," she said casually of the visit that never happened.

That's how it was back in 2008, when her son, former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, and daughter-in-law, Kendel, swept into her home withSen. John McCain, the Republican presidential front runner at that time.

The Secret Service had controlled everything about McCain's visit, and Nancy Ehrlich assumed that would be the case again, if a Romney visit were to happen.

"They're certainly welcome if they want to come by," she said of the Romney camp, which was scheduled to host a town hall meeting hours later at the Dewey Lowman American Legion Post 109 just down Sulphur Spring Road — the same place where McCain spoke in 2008.

Ehrlich seemed gracious about the opportunity to host Romney in her home but not overly excited.

Indeed, throughout Arbutus on Wednesday, there seemed to be no small-town hysteria over the big-time political attention.

The spotlight is all too familiar.

It came with the territory, so to speak, a decade ago, as soon as hometown kid Bob Ehrlich became the state's first Republican governor in more than three decades.

Last October, Ehrlich was named chairman of Romney's campaign in Maryland, and when Romney's plan to stop through Arbutus was later announced, it hardly caused ripples in town.

It was just another example of Ehrlich's reputation and status in the Republican party in Maryland, said Terry Nolan, a local lawyer and former president of the Arbutus Business and Professional Association.

"You have a hometown hero, who has world-class Republican political connections and who apparently has a gift for picking the winning candidate months in advance," Nolan said of the former Maryland governor. "When those things come together, it results in visits like this."

Not that people, including Nolan's wife, Patti Sue Nolan, the ABPA's current president, don't appreciate the attention.

"It's kind of cool that this little lost-in-time town is the center of the universe," she said. "I'd much rather be in the spotlight for Mitt Romney coming here than for someone being stabbed or something like that."

Clam Kaikis, owner of Paul's Restaurant in town and a local politico in his own right, said the attention is not unexpected, but is appreciated.

"I'm happy to hear that we're going to get a little spotlight on our town today, the little town that has one ramp off and one ramp on," he said. "We're going to get shined on."

Event creates traffic, draws crowd

Because of security measures and the influx of vehicles to the American Legion post, traffic backed up on Sulphur Spring Road and Benson Avenue long before Romney was supposed to speak at 4 p.m.

Local residents and others who had to park blocks away from the post's Old Sulphur Spring Road location walked, some at a fast clip, eager to hear Romney speak.

John Rollette, 81, of Linthicum, said he served as a Marine in the Korean War with Bob Ehrlich, Sr. and was on his way to meet Gov. Ehrlich at the post.

"This is something else, when you're not used to walking," Rollette said.

Berchie Manley, a Romney supporter and former Republican representative on the Baltimore County Council for District 1, which includes Arbutus, said she tried to go to the event at 3 p.m., but couldn't find anywhere to park.

"We tried to find parking on surrounding streets, but they were just packed, so we came home," she said. "I was disappointed, but I'm sure a lot of people were. They just couldn't get in. But I was thrilled that so many people came."

By 3:15 p.m., a large crowd was gathered outside the post, which was already full to capacity.

Among them was Carolyn Chesgreen, of Lansdowne, who said she has been a fan of Romney since before his 2008 campaign. When she found out he would be speaking at the post, so close to her home, she knew she had to be there, she said.

A lot of people in the Arbutus area are "afraid to say they're a Republican or Independent," she said, and "what's good about Romney is he's come to the middle."

Chesgreen and others wondered whether Romney would speak to those outside.

Then, a little after 3:45 p.m., he did, coming out of the post, climbing onto a stage and briefly speaking to those who couldn't get in the building.

Amid his political messages criticizing President Barack Obama, he thanked people for coming and assured them the speech he was about to give inside would be played on speakers to those outside.

"I just wanted you to see it's not coming by satellite or something," Romney said. "I'm actually here."

People cheered. Then many started walking home, or back to their cars.

'A pretty big deal'

Among them was Debbie SeBour, of RE/MAX New Beginnings in Arbutus, who said she had just come "to check out the excitement."

Although she and her husband, Bruce, are Democrats, "it's not every day that a politician comes to our town," she said.

Terry Nolan, also one of the people who headed home after Romney went back inside, said Romney was "ebullient," "had a lot of presence," and communicated well, and that his coming to Arbutus was a good thing not only for local residents, but for Romney as well.

"I think it's great we're on the map in some way," Nolan said. "It's great for Arbutus and it's great for the candidate, to come out and see some folks who are multifaceted."

Nolan said he also appreciated Romney speaking to those outside.

"It was courteous of him to come out and address the overflow crowd," Nolan said. "I sense the hand of Mr. Ehrlich in that gesture."

Jean McElroy, president of the Dewey Lowman Unit 109 Auxiliary who lives a block and a half away from the post and has lived in Arbutus for almost four decades, said Ehrlich's connection to Arbutus has long been beneficial to the town.

"It really helps us," she said. "It gives us some outlook (that) our little town is worth coming to and being part of the political party."

As people walked home, many stopped to glance at the signs of Danielle Blockston. She and her husband, Doug, live on Benson Avenue but had set up the signs in the Old Sulphur Spring Road yard of their friends, Paul and Amy Heckhaus.

The signs read, "ROMNEY: WRONG FOR WOMEN. WRONG FOR MARYLAND," and, "Stop the War on Women."

Blockston said she was happy for the chance to participate in politics, though the event — just like the McCain event in 2008 — had caused some headaches.

"I think Benson Avenue has enough traffic on a good day," she said.

Still, having the event so close was "neat," said her husband, who works in Rockville and shared the news of the event with friends there.

"I was at work today and everybody was impressed that Mitt Romney was coming a couple blocks from my house," he said.

"Yeah," said Paul Heckhaus. "In a state that's dominated by Democrats, it's a pretty big deal."

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