Laura Bush helps Ehrlich raise campaign funds


BETHESDA - Praising him as a strong leader and good friend of the White House, first lady Laura Bush helped Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. raise $250,000 last night for his re-election campaign.

Bush said she follows Maryland politics and the Ehrlich administration closely, and has been impressed with the governor's commitment to education and other causes affecting children. She urged the 200 donors at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center to do everything they can to ensure that the state's first Republican governor in a generation gets a second term.

"One thing we know about your governor is he has the energy to follow around two young boys, and he certainly has the energy to be governor," Bush said. "My husband likes to refer to him as 'Maryland's live wire.' Bob Ehrlich has spent his time in Maryland's governor's office putting his energy to good use."

The first lady's visit comes a day after President Bush appeared with Ehrlich at the port of Baltimore, and Ehrlich predicted the Bushes will be back in the months before the November 2006 election.

If, as expected, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele enters the race for the U.S. Senate, Maryland will receive a lot of attention from the Bush administration, Ehrlich said.

"For her to make this kind of appearance this early in our campaign really means a lot," Ehrlich said. "It's rare for her to do these kinds of events ... but she is making a statement. This is a priority for the White House."

Donors paid $1,000 each to get into the fundraiser, and $4,000 if they wanted their pictures taken with the first lady and the governor.

Ehrlich said his fundraising campaign is going well and will shatter Maryland records. He said he is holding relatively few high-dollar events but is raising most of his money through house parties and direct mail solicitations. Maryland Republican leaders have predicted Ehrlich will raise between $15 million and $20 million for his re-election bid.

John R. Reith, Ehrlich's chief fundraiser, said he expects the president to attend an event for the governor next year. During the 2002 campaign, Ehrlich raised $1.8 million at a fundraiser attended by the president, at the time the most ever raised at one event in Maryland political history.

Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is preparing a challenge to Ehrlich, said he raised $2 million at a fundraiser this summer, a claim Ehrlich suggested last night he doesn't believe.

"We didn't just say we raised $1.8 million, by the way. We actually raised $1.8 million," he said. "You can check."

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