Speculation grows: Who's on the Ehrlich list of running mates?

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has made bold choices in his running mates, picking a then-obscure Michael S. Steele in 2002 to become Maryland's first black lieutenant governor, and four years later tapping Kristen Cox, the first disabled woman to run for statewide office.

With Steele now chairing the Republican National Committee and Cox a state official in Utah, Ehrlich is looking for a new partner for his third run for governor. He will have to name his running mate when he files the paperwork to make his candidacy official early next month.

Ehrlich seems far less fixated on the selection than those around him. He has brushed aside reporters' questions and said jokingly at a recent Maryland Republican Party dinner that "applications are available in the lobby on the way out."

His aides would not say whether he has spent time vetting running mates.

"The process is going on, and a decision has not been made," Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth said last week.

Gov. Martin O'Malley is keeping Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown on the Democratic ticket. Brown is the highest-ranking elected official in the country to have served in the Iraq War, and O'Malley has detailed him to health care and military base realignment projects, among other tasks.

Ehrlich's aides would not disclose or confirm names in the mix, though Ehrlich has said there are "more than a few."

Conventional wisdom holds that a running mate can help fill in gaps in a candidate's resume. As a white man from the Baltimore region, Ehrlich has used his past picks to bring racial and gender balance to his ticket. Few would be surprised if he does so again, with a particular eye toward appealing to voters in the populous Washington suburbs, where the campaign acknowledges it must do well to win.

Geography matters

Montgomery County resident Mary D. Kane is perhaps the most commonly discussed potential partner.

Kane, a registered Republican, served as Ehrlich's secretary of state and U.S. Chamber of Commerce special projects director. Her husband, John Kane, chaired the state's Republican Party when Ehrlich was governor. The family owns moving and office storage companies, and could help provide the Ehrlich campaign with a supply of cash. She has been featured prominently at Ehrlich's business events in the Washington region.

Reached at her Potomac home last week, Kane was tight-lipped about the potential of her name appearing on the ballot. Asked if she'd want the job, she said: "I'm really not going to comment. I don't have any comments on that. Thanks. Goodbye."

Ehrlich is eager to make inroads in densely populated Montgomery. Though a Democratic stronghold, it also contains the largest number of registered independents and a trove of Republicans.

When Ehrlich launched his campaign in Rockville in April, the master of ceremonies was Howard Denis, a fiscal conservative who at one point was the lone Republican on the Montgomery County Council. County insiders say Denis, now a congressional staffer, is likely on Ehrlich's short list.

Ehrlich cheerleader-in-chief Larry Hogan might also be in the mix. Hogan, a Prince George's County native from a prominent political family, was once Ehrlich's appointments secretary and briefly declared himself a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor. He used his candidacy to recruit Ehrlich and at one point even led elected officials in a "Run, Ehrlich, Run" chant. Hogan gamely bowed out when Ehrlich's intentions became clear.

Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a two-time Republican gubernatorial nominee, who came close to defeating Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 1994, advises Ehrlich to select a running mate who can energize the party base.

"It's critically important to galvanize, energize and organize the base to come out in record numbers," she said. "People don't vote for you based on the lieutenant governor, but I think it sends a message."

Gender considerations

Sauerbrey said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties, would be "an excellent choice" because she "is conservative and has stature in the legislature."

Jacobs, who has been in the legislature for a decade, said Ehrlich has not contacted her about the job. She sees herself as an asset.

"I understand he's looking for a woman," Jacobs said last week. "And I think someone with ties to the General Assembly would be to his benefit. He needs to get his legislative agenda through."

Another woman frequently on the lips of Republican party insiders is Alison Asti, Maryland Stadium Authority executive director during the Ehrlich administration, who would bring a business background to the race. Asti, an Anne Arundel County resident, now advises cities and states on how to build partnerships with sports franchises and works for a firm that provides mediation services.

Asti said she's a "great admirer" of Ehrlich and plans to host a $500-per-ticket fundraiser for him in her Pasadena home Saturday.

Blue appeal

Del. Christopher B. Shank, a Washington County Republican and a political science professor, argued that Ehrlich's name on the ballot is enough to rally the base, discounting Sauerbrey's advice that he should select a GOP-cheerleading partner.

"From everything I have seen, the base is so energized, and he's not taking it for granted, that I don't think that needs to be a key consideration for him" when choosing a running mate, Shank said.

Ehrlich faces at least one primary challenger, businessman Brian Murphy, but the party has largely already coalesced behind Ehrlich.

To navigate Maryland's blue waters — there are more than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans — Ehrlich could choose a Democrat for his ticket. Names from his previous gubernatorial bids have returned to the gossip cycle.

Possibilities include state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who has publicly sparred with O'Malley while overseeing one of the country's best-regarded public school systems, and former Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, who now works at a private law firm in Baltimore.

Curry, the county's first black chief executive, stoked speculation when he spoke this spring at a tribute to former Gov. Marvin Mandel. He looked at Ehrlich, referred to the importance of Prince George's County and talked about his ability to be bipartisan.

But the rambling speech ended with him saying he'd rather have the governor's office himself.

Star power

One of the most intriguing names being whispered is that of prominent Baltimore neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson. Conservative and outspoken, but with no political experience, Carson would add considerable wattage to an Ehrlich ticket (Cuba Gooding Jr. played Carson in a television movie), but it appears to be a no-go.

Through a spokeswoman at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, Carson said he is remaining a surgeon and has "no plans" to enter politics. It wasn't clear whether he'd been approached by Ehrlich.

Shank and others predicted Ehrlich would choose someone "more for the quality of what they represent than any sort of identity politics." Many have said Ehrlich could use the spot to highlight his campaign theme of making Maryland more hospitable to businesses.

For his first run, Ehrlich tapped Steele, a Prince George's County native who was running the state's Republican Party. Steele left the lieutenant governor's office to run for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2006. He lost but went on to become chairman of the Republican National Committee, where he has been noted for such colorful remarks as "Drill, baby, drill!"

For his second run, Ehrlich picked Cox, secretary of the disabilities agency he created, who is legally blind. Cox has gone on to become director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, which handles public assistance.

Cox described the selection process as quick and "very informal." She recalled that Ehrlich's then-chief of staff James C. "Chip" DiPaula Jr. and communications director Paul Schurick were present with Ehrlich.

"They contacted me, and we sat down and talked about my history," she said. "It was equally me asking questions of them. They said, 'Here's what we're about, and is this something you want to do?' "

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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