Bob Ehrlich is heading to the one place that may hold as much allure for him as the Maryland governor’s mansion: the Little League field. On a blue-sky afternoon, Ehrlich’s wife, Kendel, is getting sons Drew, 11, and Josh, 6, situated in their games at a park in Arnold when the former governor arrives with some aides and some news. “Good poll,” he says to his wife instead of hello. “Good poll.”
He calls up on his phone a new Rasmussen survey that has him dead even among likely voters, 45–45, with the man who ousted him four years ago and for whom he now intends to return the favor.
The rematch between likely GOP nominee Ehrlich, 52, and the current officeholder, Martin O’Malley, 47, is as fierce as they come, a contest between two competitive alpha males, each the dominant presence in his party. They rarely utter each other’s name. Democrat O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore, has dismissed Ehrlich as a “right-wing radio disc jockey,” referring to the show he hosted with his wife on Baltimore’s WBAL until July. And O’Malley launched a round of attack ads early on, one connecting Ehrlich to the BP oil spill and tagging him as an unregistered lobbyist.
Ehrlich has called O’Malley “a whiner” and his administration “a disaster.” He used his radio show over the last three years to take shots at his successor, occasionally giving airtime to a caller, “Martin from Annapolis,” who mocked O’Malley.
In their 2006 matchup, Ehrlich, who lost by 6.5 percentage points, didn’t make the customary call to concede and congratulate O’Malley until the day after the election, saying he wanted to wait until the absentee ballots were counted. “Is that unusual?” O’Malley says in an interview, where he doesn’t hide his disdain for Ehrlich. “Many would say it was.”
On this summer afternoon, with O’Malley and GOP primary challenger Brian Murphy in the way of his planned return to the state house, Ehrlich has invited a celebrity visitor to Drew’s baseball game: former Massachusetts governor and GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, in the state for a party fundraiser that night.
It reminds Ehrlich of the time three years ago when another presidential hopeful, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani came to Maryland for a fundraiser and stopped by Drew’s game. Giuliani arrived at the game of seven-year-olds in Cape St. Claire with reporters, cameras, and TV satellite trucks in tow. Drew came up to bat in the first inning, and his dad whispered in his ear: “Get a hit, get a hit.” The defeated governor could just see the headlines if his son fanned: EHRLICH’S KID STRIKES OUT. But Drew did him proud—a solid line drive up the middle, high-fives all around. “That’s my boy,” Ehrlich said to Giuliani.
“Drew’s used to pressure is the moral of that story,” Ehrlich says, awaiting Romney’s arrival. “He’s been used to the limelight, the pressure, his whole life.”
It’s something else the Ehrlichs have in common with the O’Malleys—families who have grown up in the public eye—and the reason both candidates play full-contact politics. “We’re ready for another one,” says 12-year-old William O’Malley, who’s been known to sit in on his dad’s staff meetings and even offer his opinions.
“I’m built for it,” Kendel Ehrlich says of political life.
Romney finally arrives at the Little League park, and the two former Republican governors stand on the sidelines. Ehrlich is so in his element that he says the big controversy of his administration will be whether or not he can still coach the Cougars, Drew’s football team, next year. “Good eye, D!” he calls to his son. “Good eye, babe!”
Switching easily between Little League and the big league he’s back in, Ehrlich tells Romney about the latest poll numbers. Likely voters. Expected voter turnout. Tied with the incumbent. Romney, at one time a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, knows something about the change-ups and curve balls of election seasons. The poll is good news, he assures his fellow Republican. “But,” he says looking him in the eye, “you got a long ways to go.”