Former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and about 20 other Democrats, most of them former officials, abandoned their party's nominee for governor yesterday and endorsed Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
The Democrats who lined up behind Ehrlich include several former conservative lawmakers and two current legislators who were cast aside in the primary last month.
"This doesn't mean those of us who are Democrats are leaving the party," said former Sen. Michael J. Wagner of Anne Arundel County. "We support most Democrats and are going to work as hard for them as we have in the past, but for governor, we are supporting Bob Ehrlich."
They say they are fed up with Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democratic nominee.
Ehrlich has been trying for most of the year to draw high-profile Democrats into his campaign, and had predicted that big names would line up behind him. Two current Democratic officeholders have signed on so far: Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV of Baltimore, and Del. Dana Lee Dembrow of Montgomery County, who have been outcasts in the Democratic Party, both losing their primaries last month.
The Townsend campaign played down the endorsements, announced at a rally in Glen Burnie, saying they are from Democrats who long ago faded from the spotlight.
"I think this morning's announcement from Congressman Ehrlich should have been broadcast live on the History Channel," said Len Foxwell, a Townsend spokesman. "This is a collection of people who have long ago been marginalized within the Democratic Party.
"Most of them left the political stage at the same time Duran Duran was falling off the Billboard charts."
The Townsend campaign also released a statement last night saying that the Democrats supporting Ehrlich are "a cluster of failed, forgotten and disgraced politicians."
Most current Democratic officeholders have endorsed Townsend, although some have been slow to campaign with her.
'The state is broke'
The group endorsing Ehrlich yesterday included former Democratic senators James C. Simpson of Charles County, Thomas M. Yeager of Howard County and Charles H. Smelser of Carroll County. Former delegates Leon Albin, Louis L. DePazzo, Donald Mason, Kenneth H. Masters, Richard Rynd and Theodore Levin, all of Baltimore County, also endorsed Ehrlich.
Former delegates Tyras S. Athey of Anne Arundel County, Dennis C. Donaldson of Prince George's County and Ethel A. Murray of Cecil County are backing him as well.
Others supporting Ehrlich are former Anne Arundel County Executive O. James Lighthizer and A. Dwight Pettit, a Baltimore attorney and former candidate for Baltimore state's attorney.
Many of the former Democratic legislators said they are backing Ehrlich because they are impressed with his record as a member of the House of Delegates. Others cited the state's $1.7 billion budget deficit.
"Most of us are Marylanders first and Democrats second, and we all know right now the state is broke," said Simpson, a former candidate for lieutenant governor.
Some of the Democrats said this is the first time they are supporting a Republican, but others backed Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey during the 1998 election.
Steinberg endorsed Sauerbrey in 1998. Yesterday, he criticized Townsend for having a staff of 15, which he called a waste of money. He said he had a staff of three when he was the lieutenant governor under Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
"Let me tell you something, real Democrats care about the state of Maryland," said Steinberg, who ran for governor in 1994, but lost to Glendening in the Democratic primary.
David Paulson, the executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, and 15 other people -- some carrying "Real Democrats for Townsend" signs -- picketed outside Ehrlich's rally.
Paulson said he was not impressed with Ehrlich's endorsements. "He assembled a bunch of Democrats who have been rejected by other Democrats," Paulson said.
Ehrlich believes the endorsements will help him sway the moderate and conservative Democrats he needs to win the election. In Maryland, Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly two to one.
"It may push some folks from undecided into our column," Ehrlich said.
Townsend also is going after voters from the opposite party. In July, she announced that Theodore R. McKeldin Jr., the son of the former Baltimore mayor and state governor, and Courtney J. McKeldin, Theodore's wife, were leading a committee called Republicans for Townsend.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times