Josh Kurtz: Kane is Able

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Republican sources tell me that as he plots his political comeback, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) is taking a very close look at Mary Kane, the former Maryland secretary of State and wife of ex-state GOP Chairman John Kane, to be his running mate.

It isn’t clear when Ehrlich will announce his choice — it isn’t even clear at this point when Ehrlich will announce his own candidacy, though most political insiders expect it to happen before the end of the month. The question for Ehrlich then becomes whether it makes more sense to immediately present the ticket or to make a splash with Kane — or whomever he ultimately selects — later. Right now, the Ehrlich camp is keeping mum.

“Bob Ehrlich thinks very highly of Mary Kane, however, any speculation about potential running mates is premature since Bob Ehrlich has yet to announce his own intentions,” Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said Monday.

Kane, an attorney who is director of special projects at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, did not respond to a phone message left at her office Monday.

As a running mate for Ehrlich, Kane, who turned 48 just last week, would bring a lot of upside, as the athletic scouts might say. She’s smart, personable and attractive. She could go into just about any community in the state and campaign with skill and grace (not to mention Grace — her daughter).

She’d represent Ehrlich well: The two are in sync politically — they’re both to the right of center, but not extremists. She lives in Montgomery County, and could help Ehrlich cut into the huge advantage that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is certain to have there.

And she’s not just Catholic — an important element for any balanced ticket in Maryland — she’s Irish-Catholic, the daughter of Irish immigrants who grew up in Wilmington, Del. So O’Malley won’t automatically be able to run up the score with Irish-Catholic voters on the strength of the apostrophe in his name alone.

Ehrlich and his wife Kendel make a good-looking, vibrant couple. They’re fun loving and politically savvy. John and Mary Kane are equally good looking, equally vibrant, equally fun loving and equally politically savvy.

Think of what a dashing foursome they’d be on the campaign trail. It would be like when Bill Clinton selected Al Gore to be his running mate. Remember what freshness and vitality the Clintons and Gores exuded when they went out on the road together right after the 1992 Democratic convention?

That road trip boosted Clinton’s popularity immensely — and that’s what the Ehrlichs and Kanes would be like on the campaign trail together. Only unlike the Clintons and Gores, who didn’t know each other well at the beginning of that campaign and were natural rivals, the Ehrlichs and Kanes are genuine friends of long standing. The vitality and bonhomie they’d display in public would not be forced.

And that would extend to a second Ehrlich administration if the Republicans upend O’Malley in November. Ehrlich wouldn’t have to pretend that Mary Kane is a key part of his administration, because she and John Kane are already part of his extended team of advisers. John Kane, who runs a multimillion dollar trucking and office supplies company, was Ehrlich’s hand-picked choice to run the state Republican Party after he was elected governor, and Ehrlich put Mary Kane in his administration, first as deputy secretary of State, then in the top job.

No one doubts that O’Malley’s lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown (D), is a smart, appealing guy who has been given some important things to do, like run the state’s BRAC program. But no one pretends that Brown is part of O’Malley’s inner circle, either. Mary Kane would be the first lieutenant governor in modern Maryland history with the potential to be a true partner with the chief executive.

Mary Kane has at least one other thing going for her: She and her husband are rich. They could set up a campaign committee for her statewide bid and put an unlimited amount of money into it. They’d have to be careful how they spend it — they couldn’t co-mingle its funds with those of Ehrlich’s own campaign committee. But state campaign laws are flexible enough that Kane millions could do a lot to help the Republican cause -- including by simply forming a joint committee for the Ehrlich-Kane slate.

But could that money be a double-edged sword in the midst of a deep recession? There are countless examples through history of millionaire candidates getting elected to office. Blue blood Franklin Roosevelt, after all, was the man Americans chose to get them out of the worst depression in U.S. history.

Still, rich candidates can be deeply resented. John and Mary Kane’s 9,500-square foot home in Potomac, valued on Jan. 1, 2008, at $3 million according to state tax records, could easily become a talking point for Democrats — and a turnoff to voters struggling in the worst economy since FDR was president.

And that camaraderie between the Ehrlichs and the Kanes? Bob Ehrlich is a well-known golf enthusiast, someone who probably spent a little too much time on the links than he should have as governor. It’s a little too easy to imagine the Ehrlichs and Kanes together on the golf course — someone probably even has photos.

Speaking of friendships, one of Mary Kane’s good friends is Doro Bush Koch, sister of George W. Bush. Another exploitable connection for Democrats in a heavily Democratic state?

Then there’s John Kane’s business. Americans love self-made millionaires. Kane inherited a successful trucking company and made it bigger. But last year, the Washington Post reported that the feds were investigating the company for allegedly paying lower wages than mandated for moving and office installation projects for the federal government. John Kane, in a mass e-mail to friends hours before the Post article appeared, suggested that the piece was flawed and advanced by a disgruntled ex-employee. We’re not going to pass judgment here on the allegations — but Democratic operatives will.

Bob Ehrlich has until July 6, the candidate filing deadline, to decide who his running mate will be. Republicans in Maryland, as a thousand people have said before, have a very weak bench. He could do a lot worse than Mary Kane — in fact, she is without a doubt one of the strongest potential candidates out there.

But when all is said and done, the choice for voters will still be between the two candidates for governor — not their No. 2’s.

Josh Kurtz is senior editor at Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. He can be reached at .

Previous Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

To Be Frank

Gay Rights and Political Wrongs?

The Washington Post Goes to War

Snow Job

Unsolicited Advice for Ehrlich — Wait Till 2014

The Early Bird Gets the Worm?

Wayne's World May Be Another Planet

Miller Time Comes Early

Owings Owes an Explanation
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