Paul Steinhauser: Ehrlich coming to NH, meets with donors as he weighs 2016 run
CONCORD - Bob Ehrlich's coming back to New Hampshire.
The former Maryland governor and four-term congressman, who's mulling a run for the Republican presidential nomination, told NH1 on Monday that he'll visit the first-in-the-nation primary state on Feb. 24.
And Ehrlich also shared with NH1 that he met last week with more than 100 high dollar donors in New York, another signal that he's starting to take the steps that could eventually lead to a White House campaign.
Asked when he'll decide on whether to launch a campaign, Ehrlich said "there's no real timeline other than for the pragmatic considerations. Obviously this summer we have to figure out what the situation is."
As for the factors behind such a major decision, he said the big question will be "are people responding to my message? Are they lining up to hear more of what I say after I speak? Clearly there's been a little bit of a spark in my public speeches. Can that spark cause more sparks? Are there more groups that want to hear me?"
Another crucial consideration is his wife Kendall and his two children, who are 15 and 10.
"We've had the family discussions. My family, we're very close."
Ehrlich added that Kendall "is all for this exploratory step" and that the kids are "very excited."
If Ehrlich does decide to run, he'd be considered a longshot in what's shaping up to be a very large and competitive field for the GOP nomination. Unlike many other potential contenders, Ehrlich's not stepping too hard on the gas pedal. Asked how he could compete against possible rivals with major name recognition such as Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie, Ehrlich said "that's not where we are right now. That's not where my mind is right now. That doesn't reflect my present status."
"Right now for our purposes that really doesn't matter," he added. "I've been very careful with the people we've talked to and the people we've met in not getting ahead of ourselves."
Ehrlich says at last week's donor meeting in New York, he discussed setting up a leadership or super PAC, as a bunch of other probable candidates have done in recent weeks.
"We're looking at different options," he added.
Ehrlich stated that at least initially money's not an issue ,"because we can raise some money coming out of the starting gate," adding that "I do have the ability to raise some money."
But he conceded that overall "the issue of money is something that we're thinking about."
Being out of office ‘an advantage'
Ehrlich was elected Maryland governor in 2002, becoming the first Republican to run the Democratic dominated state in more than three decades, and just the sixth GOP governor in Maryland's history. But Ehrlich was defeated in his 2006 re-election bid by Democratic Mayor Martin O'Malley of Baltimore. Ehrlich also lost a 2010 gubernatorial election rematch with O'Malley.
Ehrlich views not holding office for more than eight years "as an advantage, not a disadvantage."
"If you've been detached from politics, it would be a disadvantage. But I've written two books, I've run around the county, not only on my book tours but on my criminal justice speeches. I've worked for one of the largest law firms in the world. So it's not like I've been detached," he added.
Frequent NH visitor
The visit next month will be Ehrlich's fourth to the Granite State since last summer.
"I remark to everyone around me how much New Hampshire reminds me of the 2nd Congressional District of Maryland, my old district," he said, "It's very easy for me to come up and to not just talk about politics and my views but feel very comfortable almost immediately up there."
"I do think they've responded to my style," which Ehrlich described as straight forward, blunt and unscripted.
Besides his stops in New Hampshire, Ehrlich says he's been invited to South Carolina, which holds the first southern contest in the primary and caucus calendar, as well as Florida, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New York.
Ehrlich added the he's "accepting invites from people who want to hear what I have to say."
Common Core and Immigration
Asked where he stands on the Common Core educational standards, which are an anathema to many conservatives, the former governor said "I have been careful not to condemn those who support Common Core, because I understand where they are coming from."
"There's an intellectual case to be made for measurement, for quantifying success in the classroom. However, I'm not a fan because in my experience in Congress and as governor," Ehrlich added. "The federal role needs to be more limited, it's grown far beyond its means."
Another divisive issue for the GOP is illegal immigration, and whether some of the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. should be given a pathway to citizenship.
Ehrlich, who wrote about the issue in his second book, said that "some folks on our side don't define their terms very well when they talk about this issue," adding that "we have to distinguish between the road to legality and citizenship. They're two different concepts."
With language that could turnoff conservative activists, Ehrlich said "we're not going to round up 12, 15, 18 million people."
"I think the bill that Sen. Rubio and others put together in Congress is a good predicate," Ehrlich said of the bipartisan bill that passed the then-Democratic controlled Senate in 2013 but never was given a vote in the GOP dominated House.
"I think a bill needs to get done. I hope the Republican Congress puts a bill together that reflects our values and sends it to the President," Ehrlich added.