Former Ehrlich insurance commissioner, aide face off for state Senate

Two well-known Republicans are locked in a tight race for a shot at the open state Senate seat in the conservative-leaning 7th District. Both have State House experience and close ties to former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., though Ehrlich is favoring one over the over.

Del J.B Jennings got the nod from Ehrlich over former delegate and state Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr., as the two face off for a chance to succeed state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, who is running for Congress. The district includes sections of Baltimore and Harford counties, and Democrats Rebecca Weir Nelson and Jim Stavropoulos Jr., are also running for the seat.

Jennings interned for Ehrlich — who himself is seeking a return this year to the state's top post — then worked as an aide for several years when Ehrlich was a congressman. Redmer sat next to Ehrlich on the House floor when they served in the House together, and Ehrlich later appointed him to be state insurance commissioner.

Jennings, 36, said he's proud to get the nod, though some observers questioned whether the endorsement would matter much.

"I know the district," Jennings said. "And he knows that I will be there to stand with him and always be there to work with him."

Redmer, 54, said he doesn't expect the endorsement to sway voters too much.

"Most people make up their own minds based on the issues and the characteristics of the candidates themselves," Redmer said, "and those who don't make the decision based on their own research probably don't even know that Ehrlich has made an endorsement."

A Redmer win would be only an "indirect and tenuous" indicator of Ehrlich's support in that district, outweighed by savvy campaigning and literature, said Herb Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College.

"Certainly a Bob Ehrlich endorsement is pretty strong medicine in that area of Baltimore County, but at that level the local campaigns matter a great deal," Smith said. "Ehrlich's endorsement is secondary."

Political analysts said the 7th District, typically a Republican stronghold, had the potential to be a Democratic pick-up when Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. was seriously considering a run for the seat. He decided against it after polling showed his support of Gov. Martin O'Malley would be unpopular.

The candidate who makes the most concerted effort to meet and talk to voters is the one who usually wins, Herb Smith said.

That message hasn't been lost on either Jennings or Redmer who say they've spent most of their time in the months leading up the election knocking on doors, attending community association meetings and waving signs.

Jennings is pushing his familiarity with the district. Jennings grew up in Jacksonville and lives in Joppa. He has been a volunteer firefighter and a dairy farmer, and has also owned a horse feed company. He said he's better equipped to find solutions to transportation and road issues and environmental problems, make tough cuts in state spending and deal with the anticipated growth at Aberdeen Proving Ground as a result of the military's Base Realignment and Closure process. Jennings serves in the Maryland National Guard.

Voters said they are most concerned with the economy and jobs, he said. Jennings said he is committed to making the state more business-friendly so firms "will stay here, they will prosper and they will put people to work."

Redmer, who grew up in Perry Hall and lives in Middle River, is hoping that voters will appreciate his diverse experience as an elected official, political appointee and businessman. Redmer is a partner and president of Landmark Insurance & Financial Group. He previously worked as chief executive officer for Coventry Health Care of Delaware Inc.

Redmer said he is concerned about taxes and job creation. He said he hears as much from voters about illegal immigration "as I do about any other issue."

"The overriding issue from my perspective is that it's not just about sending someone to Annapolis to vote the right way, but sending someone with the energy, work ethic and tenacity to provide solutions and get things done," he said. "It's about changing the direction of the state."

Regardless of the outcome, conservatives will likely wind up with a strong candidate, said Richard Vatz, a Towson University rhetoric professor and a friend of Ehrlich.

"Both Jennings and Redmer are impressive," said Vatz, who said he did not discuss the endorsement with the former governor. "Ideologically, both are good Republicans. Both would do a strong, good job. As far as conservatives are concerned, it strikes me as a no-lose situation."

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