AS IF THE stakes weren't high enough, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced last week that he's launching an all-out lobbying effort to promote his slots legislation.
The push began with an e-mail message distributed to his supporters, by authority of his campaign committee. It will include, aides say, help from a variety of interest groups, including teachers and business leaders.
But why is the effort needed, if Ehrlich received - as he says - a "mandate for slots" because of his election? And what happens if the slots bill fails?
"It means that his slots legislation is in trouble, which means that his budget is also in trouble," said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University.
Crenson said it could be problematic for Ehrlich to invest so much energy in one issue.
"It's probably unwise for him to nail his flag to that mast so firmly," Crenson said. "If he goes down, it is going to undercut whatever perceived influence he has in the state, and turn [House Speaker] Michael Busch into the leading power."
Del. John Adams Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat, agreed.
"He's invested a lot of political capital in passing a slots bill, and his proposal is in serious trouble," he said.
Hurson said it's smart politics for Ehrlich to turn to grass-roots efforts such as e-mails to drum up support. But because the governor is focusing on one issue, he's increasing the costs if he loses, he said.
"You run the danger of appearing you're desperate, if that's the only thing you've got," Hurson said.
Thomas Schaller, a political science professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the tactic Ehrlich is now employing is more difficult to pull off than traditional vote-building in a legislature.
"When you try to involve voters, that's bank-shot politics," Schaller said. "But like in billiards, a bank shot is much harder to make than a straight shot."
"He may have assumed a mandate for that [gambling] policy that he did not have," Schaller added. "If he had a definitive mandate, he wouldn't have to lobby at all, and the legislators would already be in line, for fear of alienating the electorate."
Asked yesterday if he thought he had overextended himself on slots, Ehrlich said: "It's a big issue."
"That question could be asked of Mike Busch," Ehrlich said. "I'm pleased with our timeline. Now we're in that last stage, to quantify how it works."
But Crenson said that with the General Assembly session more than half over, Ehrlich and Busch should get beyond their opposing camps.
"It looks to me as though it's time for him [Ehrlich] and Busch to come together and come to a compromise, and not stake out his position so sharply," he said. "He's got to realize that he's a Republican governor in a Democratic state. Partial victory is better than total defeat.
The fence will remain at Government House
While Ehrlich has pledged to do much differently from former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, some things are staying the same.
Take the dog fence.
Glendening erected the fence on the grounds of Government House in the final months of his administration. The closely spaced bars were designed to hold in the two small dogs the governor inherited when he married his third wife, Jennifer E. Crawford.
Asked last week if the fence was staying, Ehrlich said it would.
The reason: Drew Ehrlich, 3 1/2 , has been promised a dog of his own. But only, his parents say, as a reward after he becomes potty-trained.
Asked whether bribery was an effective parenting technique, Ehrlich shrugged and smiled.
"Sure." he said. "It works with the General Assembly."
During a record storm, everyone has to pitch in
At the height of last week's snowstorm, Ehrlich press secretary Shareese N. DeLeaver was working on a press release declaring a state of emergency, and called the Maryland Emergency Management Agency looking for spokesman Quentin Banks.
The phone rang, and was answered with a curt "Hello?"
DeLeaver asked for Banks, and the person on the other end checked and said Banks wasn't around. "I'll take a message, who's calling?" the man said.
"This is Shareese DeLeaver."
"Oh, you work for me."
"No, I work for the governor."
"I am the governor."
It was Ehrlich, picking up a ringing phone inside the state's emergency bunker in Pikesville. No one can say the governor didn't pitch in during the storm.