Cash Poor Congressman Says Governor's Race Still an Option

Rep. Robert Ehrlich will fall short of his goal of raising $2 million by the end of the year, but he says it's too early to count him out of next year's gubernatorial race.

"We're averaging about $100,000 a week, and that's not bad," the Republican congressman from Baltimore County said Monday. "We're not discouraged at all."

Ehrlich, under pressure to seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination next year, said he may have something to say about his future in January. Leading Republicans consider him to be the only candidate with the potential to defeat a Democrat in the general election next November.

In September, Ehrlich said he would enter the race only if he was sure he would have enough money to run a competitive campaign against the Democratic favorite, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

She had already collected $4.4 million through Oct. 31, the cutoff date for the most recent fund-raising reports. Ehrlich had raised a little less than $600,000.

Richard Hug, the state's leading Republican fund raiser, is heading Ehrlich's finance committee and had predicted the $2 million goal would be reached. But he told The (Baltimore) Sun that the total by the end of the year will be closer to $1 million than $2 million.

Ehrlich said $2 million was a lofty goal, but he deliberately aimed high "because everybody knows what we're going to be up against."

"It's a reality check given the fact that the likely opponent will have unlimited funds," Ehrlich said.

Hug helped raise more than $6 million for Ellen Sauerbrey's gubernatorial bid in 1998 and a like amount for George W. Bush's presidential campaign 200 years ago.

In an interview last month, Hug said there was no doubt in his mind "that we can raise $6 million plus during the campaign."

Ehrlich said many business executives who support his gubernatorial bid are reluctant to donate money because they fear retaliation by Gov. Parris Glendening.

"They are scared of being punished. They are scared of what Parris will do to them," Ehrlich said. "They say, 'I've got a state contract. My spouse sits on that board. I've got this from the state, that from the state."'

Mike Morrill, Glendening's communications director, said Ehrlich "can make all the excuses he wants. The numbers speak for themselves."

"Donors give based on their assessment of the candidates, which speaks very highly of the lieutenant governor and leaves a big question around her potential Republican opponents," Morrill said.

And Morrill noted that despite Ehrlich's complaints about donors being afraid to support Republicans, "this is the group that raised and spent more money than the governor did the last campaign."

Ehrlich has been talking since last summer about running for governor instead of seeking re-election to Congress and has said several times he is close to making an announcement.

He would not commit to a deadline Monday except to say that "we'll talk to you in January."