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Baltimore Sun

Ehrlich talks down 2010 prospects

Former Gov. Ehrlich tamped down the Bobby 2010 fever in his radio show on Saturday, saying he doesn't see a lot of potential for someone of his political bent in Maryland these days. Though not ruling anything out, he said two factors would make it difficult for him to mount a comeback: That he lost while enjoying good favorability ratings and that Maryland voters have failed to elect anyone else who shares his philosophy.

I wouldn't take this too seriously just yet.

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For one thing, Ehrlich went through a loooong will-he-or-won't-he period before deciding to jump into the 2002 election. In September of 2001 (which, mind you, was about a year farther along in the cycle than we are now), Ehrlich said he was "inclined" to run for governor against the seemingly invincible Kathleen Kennedy Townsend but that he would need to be able to raise $2 million by the end of the year to make it possible. He didn't come all that close.

In January of 2002, The Sun's poll had KKT up 15 points on Ehrlich. (A hypothetical O'Malley-Ehrlch race wasn't even that close.) Throughout the spring, Ehrlich was in the conversation but not officially in the race. He didn't actually delcare his intentions until March 20, 2002, and it wasn't really clear up until the eve of his announcement that he was actually going to run. That leaves him about 18 months in the current cycle to make up his mind.

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People close to Ehrlich say he decided to run for governor in 2002 not because he felt a need to be the GOP's standard bearer or to push a particular issue but because he thought he could win. His top advisers did focus groups that spring and, even in leftiest of Mongtomery County, found no great fealty to Townsend. The fact that he was millions behind in fund raising made no difference; he caught up fast.

If Ehrlich were to decide that late in the current election cycle, he'd be even farther behind money-wise than he was then, but he'd have vastly greater advantages in terms of name ID, political network, etc. The question for him would once again be, can I win? And that has a lot to do with factors beyond his control and impossible to know. Will the state's current budget troubles force Gov. O'Malley to push through more tax increases or to cut popular programs? Will the country's current anti-GOP mood reverse itself? Or will O'Malley continue his recent improvements in approval ratings?

Ehrlich showed himself to be a pretty astute tea-leaf-reader one time before, and we know he's willing to take his shot if he sees an opening. For now, though, his interest seems best served by engaging in a lengthy period of public waffling, and that's precisely what he's doing.


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