The GOP needs another Ehrlich [Commentary]

The Republican Party is lacking a charismatic candidate

  • Pin It

I miss Bob Ehrlich. Seriously, I do.

I realize the former governor shares space with me here on the Baltimore Sun's opinion pages; in terms of sheer column inches, I suppose Mr. Ehrlich the Pundit is never that far away.

But I'm talking about Mr. Ehrlich the Politician.

A dozen years have passed since Mr. Ehrlich first ran for governor, in 2002. He beat then-Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend that year. Along with his running mate, Michael Steele, Mr. Ehrlich seemed to have revived the Maryland Republican Party almost overnight.

But 2002 was an unusually strong, post-Sept. 11 cycle for Republicans. The 2006 cycle was not, and so four short years later both men's elected political careers ended — at least for now — when Mr. Ehrlich lost his re-election bid to Martin O'Malley in 2006 and Mr. Steele was bested by Ben Cardin in the contest to replace the state's retiring senior senator, Paul Sarbanes.

Mr. Steele went on to serve a short and somewhat controversial stint as chair of the Republican National Committee. He's now a paid talking head on MSNBC which, unlike lieutenant governor or U.S. senator or even RNC chairman, requires neither election nor re-election.

It would appear that Maryland's two most notable and successful Republicans of the past generation have retired from electoral politics. And although I wouldn't be surprised if one or the other took a stab at the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Barbara Mikulski, if and when she decides she no longer wants to serve, their presumed retirements are problematic.

Some of my liberal Democratic friends around the state might be shocked to hear me say this. Indeed, I was often quite critical of Mr. Ehrlich before and during his governorship. They might even assume I merely miss Messrs. Ehrlich and Steele because the duo provided political junkies like me much to write about.

I'll cop to that: Maryland state politics is more exciting with them in the mix. And that's the point.

Consider, by contrast, the Republicans' current nominee for governor, Larry Hogan.

There's nothing particularly offensive about Mr. Hogan or his politics. He's a standard, Chamber of Commerce-style Republican who made his career in commercial real estate, believes in limited government and low taxes, served in Mr. Ehrlich's cabinet, and by all indications has a family as nice as his coiffed shock of white hair.

Translation? Yawn.

Mr. Hogan complains that state Democrats are unfairly criticizing him as a conservative radical on social issues, and he's probably right about that. But here's the thing: Even a relatively uncontroversial Republican like himself is still too far to the right for this very blue state. To win in this state, even anodyne Republicans must offer voters something more.

So say what you want about Mr. Ehrlich's policies or politics, but at least he and Mr. Steele provided a jolt to state politics and a long-needed booster shot for the Maryland GOP.

After all, there's value to having some semblance of party competition. Yet most states are, like Maryland, moving toward one-party dominance. In fact, following the 2012 elections the number of split-party state governments — i.e., states where neither party controls the governor's office and both chambers — fell to a mere dozen. Following the 1992 election cycle, there were 30 split-party states.

Which may explain why an ambitious young Republican like Alex Mooney recently bolted Maryland for West Virginia. The former Frederick state senator fit rather well the western Maryland-based 6th Congressional District where he resided — until, that is, he realized it would be much easier to win a seat in the U.S. House from the Mountaineer State.

There are some potentially promising Republicans in the state. I've written favorably about the social issue libertarianism of state Sen. Allan Kittleman, and Rep. Andy Harris may hold the 1st District seat for life. But Mr. Kittleman is unlikely to win the Howard County executive race this November, and Mr. Harris is already bumping against his electoral glass-ceiling.

Long-gone former governors Jerry Brown of California and Terry Branstad of Iowa proved that dormant electoral careers can be revived. So whaddya say, Bob?

Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears every other Wednesday. His email is Twitter: @schaller67.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to Please include your name and contact information.
  • Pin It
Recent News Coverage on The Miami Herald - Baltimore Sun
RSS feeds allow Web site content to be gathered via feed reader software. Click the subscribe link to obtain the feed URL for this page. The feed will update when new content appears on this page.

The Miami Herald

A collection of news and information related to The Miami Herald published by this site and its partners.

Top The Miami Herald Articles

Displaying items 49-60
  • On taxes, Republicans discover the problem with "Never ever, ever, ever ..."

    On taxes, Republicans discover the problem with "Never ever, ever, ever ..."
    A few words to ponder as we sail toward the fiscal cliff. Those words would be: "That was then, this is now." Strip away the false piety and legalistic hair splitting offered by Republican lawmakers rationalizing their decision to abandon a pledge...
  • The contradiction of Lincoln

    The contradiction of Lincoln
    He had lost a son many years before, the boy barely more than a toddler when he died. Now another son was dead, and grief sat on him like the shawl that draped his shoulders as he rattled around the big, cold house. His wife was emotionally troubled and...
  • GOP's biggest problem is itself

    GOP's biggest problem is itself
    "How ya like me now?" -- Barack Obama OK, so President Obama didn't really say that, but surely he must have thought it behind a private smile at some point Tuesday night. There are no smiles among the Republicans, however, only a pressing question:...
  • The black and white of political code-speak

    The black and white of political code-speak
    Lord help us, they're talking race again. "They" meaning Republicans and Democrats. Race is a critical, sensitive and sometimes painful issue with relevance to everything from environmental policy to education reform to criminal justice to media to...
  • A nun quietly rebukes 'I built that'

    A nun quietly rebukes 'I built that'
    — Let's talk about the other speech. No, not Bill Clinton's 48-minute stemwinder to the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night that was so mesmerizing even Republicans praised it. Instead, let's offer a little nod of affirmation for...
  • Nothing unique in Akin's nonsense

    Nothing unique in Akin's nonsense
    Rep. Todd Akin's fame — more accurately, his infamy — now reaches all the way to the Congo. There, Eve Ensler, the award-winning American author of “The Vagina Monologues” and herself a survivor of rape, wrote an open letter...
  • The war on, for and about women in Charlotte

    The war on, for and about women in Charlotte
    To reach the Convention Center, you must first walk the gauntlet of dead baby parts. It's one of the newer and more gruesome tactics in the fight over reproductive choice, protesters hoisting large color placards depicting aborted fetuses torn in...
  • Trayvon Martin: What if George Zimmerman had been black?

    Trayvon Martin: What if George Zimmerman had been black?
    I don't care about George Zimmerman's MySpace page. Granted, it was gratifying to read recently in The Miami Herald about his crude animus toward Mexicans ("soft a-- wannabe thugs") and his reference to a former girlfriend as an "ex-hoe." Given the way...
  • In North Carolina gay marriage vote, a step backward from progress

    In North Carolina gay marriage vote, a step backward from progress
    So apparently, Barack Obamais finally done evolving. That, you will recall, was the president's word for the process of reconsidering his opposition to same-sex marriage. Last week, after being publicly and inadvertently (?) prodded by his vice...
  • Leonard Pitts Jr.: Tribute to the TV remote control

    Leonard Pitts Jr.: Tribute to the TV remote control
    We are gathered here today to memorialize a man who revolutionized our lives. So what did Eugene J. Polley do? What was the nature of his great leap forward? Did he invent the PC? Did he invent the cellphone? Did he invent the Internet? No. Eugene J....
  • A shameful response to a nonexistent problem

    A shameful response to a nonexistent problem
    Bill Internicola had to show his papers. He received a letter last month from the Broward County, Fla., supervisor of elections informing him the office had "information from the state of Florida that you are not a United States citizen; however, you are...
  • Q&A with fly-fishing expert Lefty Kreh

    Q&A with fly-fishing expert Lefty Kreh
    Lefty Kreh is to fly-fishing what James Naismith was to basketball and, perhaps, what Elvis was to rock 'n' roll. Not only is the now 87-year-old Kreh credited with helping invent the sport in the late 1940s, he later popularized it by writing more...