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Ehrlich, Schaefer team up to push smooth beach travel


Looking like old chums, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer are featured in a campy television advertisement to be unveiled today that is the latest and most visible element of a $900,000 state campaign to push summer tourism and the E-Z Pass.

In the 30-second spot, the men load a surprised family of four into a beige minivan, packing up their golf clubs, surfboards and a yellow rubber ducky floating toy.

"Ready to hit the road for the beach?" Ehrlich says to the unsuspecting father.

"But it's only 6 a.m.," the man answers.

"Exactly," Ehrlich replies. "No traffic. Go early, stay late."

The ad ends with Ehrlich and Schaefer standing side by side waving goodbye to the vacation-bound family.

Ehrlich, a Republican, and Schaefer, a Democrat, announced the multimedia campaign last month, an effort to promote the use of electronic toll technology to facilitate faster travel across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Today, Ehrlich is also expected to launch E-Z Pass "On the Go," a program that allows people to purchase a pass from participating retailers rather than just the state, and a new free hot line that will provide information about Bay Bridge traffic.

Besides the TV spot, the campaign includes radio and billboard advertisements.

As with previous Maryland tourism ads featuring Ehrlich, the latest campaign is drawing some criticism. Already, Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, has charged that Ehrlich and Schaefer - who both face re-election next year - are using state money to boost their public images.

"It sounds like a straight-up campaign ad to me," Frosh said yesterday. "Unless they're airing it in West Virginia, then we're talking about a zero-sum game here. We're talking about Marylanders traveling around Maryland."

Matthew Crenson, a professor of political science at the Johns Hopkins University, called the ad "too cute by half."

Crenson said, however, that while it promotes both men as "warm human beings that reach out to your family" and will likely draw ire from some, it's not blatantly political.

"There have been terrible backups [on the Bay Bridge]," Crenson said. "And I think this is an attempt to defuse possible complaints."

A spokesman for the governor declined to comment on the television ad until today's announcement. It was unclear yesterday where and how often the spot would run.

The advertisement, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun, echoes tourism ads that showed Ehrlich helping families with household chores to give them time to enjoy a Maryland vacation.

For Maryland history buffs, the new ad also gives a stealthy nod to Schaefer's past dealings with a rubber duck.

Keeping a political promise, Schaefer, the former governor and mayor of Baltimore, once plunged into the seal pool of the city's National Aquarium with a similar duck in tow.

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