Speculation about Md. running mates grows

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. might be in no rush to pick a running mate, but as his Democratic rivals make their partners known, speculation about whom the governor will choose is growing in Annapolis.

Will he stick with a proven formula by selecting another African-American politician who hails from Prince George's County? Would a woman shake things up a bit? Might a Democrat help Ehrlich reach out to the moderates who gave him his win in 2002, or would he alienate his base by turning to the other party?

"I have full faith in knowing that a man who has won 13 elections as a Republican in a Democrat-controlled state will pick the right person to win," said John M. Kane, Maryland's GOP chairman.

Though Ehrlich communications director Paul Schurick insists the governor hasn't set a timetable to decide on a running mate, a handful of names are being bandied about in state political circles.

They include former Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, the county's first black chief executive and a Democrat; state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, also a Democrat; Sandra A. O'Connor, the Republican state's attorney for Baltimore County; and state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, a Howard County Republican.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Prince George's Republican who was state GOP chairman before Ehrlich tapped him in 2002, is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

Governors and lieutenant governors run as a ticket in Maryland and must be members of the same party. The state election law deadline for the governor to select who appears with him on the ballot is July 3.

James Gimpel, a University of Maryland political science professor who has worked for Republicans, said Ehrlich would be wise to choose a replacement running mate who will attract voters from outside his political base. A woman or an African-American would help Ehrlich broaden his appeal.

"It's very essential that he get some of the centrist and moderate Democrats as they did in '02," Gimpel said.

Gimpel said, however, that African-American Republicans are tough to find in Maryland. That's one reason Ehrlich might be courting Curry, whom Gimpel called "a fine choice."

Curry, a Democrat who served as county executive from 1994 to 2002, could be a controversial pick. In 2000, the Washington Post outlined Curry's extensive efforts to secure big-dollar construction contracts for his political supporters. And Curry would have to change his party affiliation at least 12 weeks before the primary so that he could run with Ehrlich, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Curry did not return calls seeking his comment for this article.

Isiah Leggett, former chairman of the state Democratic Party and a candidate for Montgomery County executive, said he thinks Curry would be interested in the lieutenant governor job. Leggett also said he believes Curry's pro-business, pro-development record in Prince George's is more in sync with Republicans than with most Democrats.

"I think that he misses the camaraderie, the limelight and the opportunity to be involved," Leggett said of Curry. "If you look at his record, philosophically he has a mixed record that I think in some ways appeals to a Republican audience."

Kane said Ehrlich will choose someone who fits his criteria and who, above all, helps him get re-elected. "I would envision him to only pick a Republican," Kane said. "How long that person is a Republican, I don't know, and I really don't care."

Schrader, a mother of one who is serving her first term in the Senate (she was appointed to the seat when incumbent Martin G. Madden retired in 2001 and was elected to the position in 2002), is married to Dennis Schrader, the state's director of homeland security. She served as Madden's legislative aide for 10 years, she said.

Schrader said she hasn't been approached by anyone in the governor's office. In addition to having the name recognition that's underscored by her husband's public service, Schrader lives in Howard County, an important battleground in state elections.

"I haven't really thought about it because, quite frankly, it's just something that is so far out in the future," Schrader said. "Obviously it would be an honor, but I don't know at this point how I would feel about it."

Schrader and Ehrlich seemed chummy last week, however, when she was the only lawmaker to join first lady Kendel Ehrlich and the governor on the dais during his announcement of stem cell research funding in Baltimore.

There was no obvious reason for Schrader to attend - she's not a Baltimore resident, and she doesn't have a science background. She does face a tough re-election battle against Howard County Executive James N. Robey, a Democrat, and for that reason the lieutenant governor job could prove appealing to her.

Grasmick is a familiar face to State House watchers. A savvy Democrat who has managed to keep her job for 14 years through three governors from two parties, she is married to wealthy businessman Louis Grasmick, a generous political donor who is close to Comptroller William Donald Schaefer - who is close to Ehrlich.

The Sun has reported that Ehrlich approached Grasmick about running with him in 2002 but she declined, asking that her name be removed from his short list.

Grasmick demurred when asked last week whether she would like the state's No. 2 job.

"I'm interested in kids," she said. "I'm interested in education."

When asked whether she thought it would be wise for the governor to run with a Democrat, she said simply that Ehrlich would have to make that call.

"I'm sure there are many qualified Republicans," Grasmick said. "I'm sure that's a strategic decision to be made by the governor."

O'Connor, state's attorney for Baltimore County since 1974, said she's not interested in the job.

"Sandy's retiring, period. End of sentence," O'Connor said. "It's nice to be on a list. It's nice to know that somebody will remember you after you're gone."

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley named Del. Anthony G. Brown, a Democrat from Prince George's County, as his running mate last month. Brown, an African-American, holds his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard. A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, he served in Iraq.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, another Democratic candidate for governor, has not picked a running mate.

His campaign said in December that a selection would come before the legislative session, which began last week. But a spokeswoman is saying Duncan will take longer, making an announcement "when he is ready."

"People see that Doug offers substance, while his opponents offer rhetoric," said spokeswoman Jody Couser. "And frankly, as a result, the pool of lieutenant governor candidates has grown immensely."

So far Duncan's short list, as floated by sources close to his campaign, has included state Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt of Prince George's, state Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore, and Joan M. Pratt, the city's comptroller. All are Democrats.

Other names in circulation as potential running mates for Ehrlich include Victor L. Hoskins, secretary of housing and community development; Audrey E. Scott, secretary of the department of planning; and Melanie Sabelhaus, a former deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration.

jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com

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