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Ehrlich talks politics with Rotarians

August 09, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - Hillary Clinton probably will win the Democratic nomination for president, but John Edwards could emerge as her strongest challenger within the party, former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich said Wednesday.

Speaking to the Rotary Club of Hagerstown, the Republican Ehrlich spoke highly of GOP presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani, for whom Ehrlich is the mid-Atlantic campaign chairman.

Ehrlich said little about his own political future, other than that he's waiting to see if the state stays as liberal as it has become before deciding whether to run again.

Democrat Martin O'Malley defeated Ehrlich in the 2006 gubernatorial election.

Asked how Maryland's Republican party, which is outnumbered in the state's Senate and House, can regain its stature, Ehrlich said, "The only way is winning a statewide race."

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Ehrlich, who joined a law firm with other top officials from his administration, joked about the first job he accepted after leaving office: assistant coach of his son's team.

He has remained politically aware, speaking at events like Wednesday's luncheon at Four Points Sheraton.

Responding to a question about how quickly a surplus in Maryland's state budget has turned into a structural deficit, Ehrlich said "spenders won" in the last election.

The national scene is "decidedly mixed," Ehrlich said, citing reasonably low rates of unemployment and inflation, and a healthy stock market.

However, he said, uneasiness about the U.S. war in Iraq has disproportionately colored Americans' views on the state of their country.

He said the Iraq war is actually the latest chapter in a worldwide war triggered by terrorists about 25 years ago.

He said the conservative wing of Maryland's Democratic party has withered, leaving a more liberal agenda that has produced a statewide smoking ban and increased voting rights for felons and is about to bring higher taxes.

The sales tax probably will be broadened, he said, adding, "I'm going to predict that lawyers are exempt." The crowd laughed.

In the presidential race, Barack Obama, a leading Democrat, hurt himself in the past week with comments about foreign policy, Ehrlich said.

Edwards has been an effective campaigner and might become Clinton's closest challenger, he said.

Although some label Giuliani as too moderate for Republicans, his record as New York City's mayor shows otherwise, Ehrlich said.

Also, Ehrlich said, Giuliani still has a "reservoir" of goodwill from his leadership after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Summarizing the possible shortcomings of other GOP candidates, Ehrlich said John McCain has unpopular views on immigration and campaign finance; Mitt Romney comes across as too perfect; and Fred Thompson has gotten a late start, with little money.

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