NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Bob Ehrlich says he’s won state legislature, congressional and gubernatorial races he wasn’t supposed to win — and he just might win a presidential race few even know he is considering.
The former Maryland governor isn’t officially in the 2016 presidential race, but like more than two dozen other current and former Republican politicians, he says he is actively considering a run.
Speaking to The Daily Caller Friday afternoon on the sidelines of the Conservative Political Action Conference, Ehrlich said he is in the “listening tour” phase of his presidential considerations, traveling to important early primary states likes New Hampshire and Florida to give speeches and hear from voters.
“There are two definitions of listening tour,” Ehrlich, 57, explained. “One is phony, I’ve made my mind up and I am pretending to do a listening tour. …And the other is what we are doing, taking those invitations, seeing how people react to my style, my views, my record, my platform, my personality, my approach.”
Ehrlich says most of the candidates considering a presidential run agree on at least 85 percent of the issues, so “there would be more differences on strategic approaches, particularly in D.C., on Capitol Hill, than on substance or on platform.”
“Then the issue becomes, ‘Alright, what do you bring to the game?'” he argued.
Ehrlich is rarely mentioned among the potential slate of 2016 contenders and he has so far not appeared as a choice in a single 2016 poll. So what would Ehrlich bring to the race that would propel him above the other potential White House contenders already getting buzz should he make the decision to pull the trigger on a run?
“Well, I’m the wrong person to ask,” he first says, refusing to point to what distinguishes himself as a candidate. “You’re asking me? Don’t ask me.”
“I just think that part of my appeal over the years is that I’ve always written my own speeches,” he said later in the interview, more willing to open up about what makes him distinctive as a contender. “When they hear it come out of my [mouth] – whether they agree with me or not – they know what I say is what I think. You may disagree. You may think I’m dead wrong. It’s also what I said last year, and five years ago and 10 years ago. And I think there is a certain appeal in this very cynical age to that kind of candidate.”
Ehrlich’s path to victory is hard to discern at first glance (and, perhaps, second, third and fourth glance). In 2002, he won the governorship of a Democratic state, but he failed to win re-election four years later. In 2010, he tried to take back the governor’s mansion, only to lose again. Such a political track record is not traditionally a springboard for a presidential run.
“We lost twice, so it is clearly not a positive part of your resume,” Ehrlich concedes. “On the other hand, we lost with an approval rate close to 60 [percent], which was kind of a bummer.”
But, he argues, “being back in the private sector for eight years is a good thing, being away from government for a while is a good thing, writing books is a good thing, giving speeches is a good thing, coaching my seven-to-thirteen year old football team is a good thing. So my life over the last better part of a decade are positives.”
Asked if he might run just to put his name out there as a possible cabinet pick in a Republican administration, Ehrlich said that’s not the way he rolls.
“I’m a competitor, I am an old jock, I am an old athlete, I’ve never gotten into a race to lose,” the former captain of the Princeton University football team said. “I‘ve never gotten into a race for any other purse than to win.”
Ehrlich believes the big issues in 2016 will be Obamacare, immigration, tax reform and national security. He says his campaign would also emphasize issues close to his heart, like the problem of fatherlessness and criminal justice reform, which he notes he pushed as governor long before other Republican politicians began talking about it.
Ehrlich won’t put a timeline on when he has to come to a decision about a run, but he says he will continue to travel to early primary states and speak to any group willing to host him. If he decides to run, he says he doesn’t believe he will have a problem raising money and that in this age of social media, money isn’t as important as it once was anyway.
But if he does decide to enter the crowded field of presidential aspirants, what exactly is his path to victory?
“The secret plan!” Ehrlich exclaimed, before conceding: “There’s no secret plan.”
While other, more prominent potential candidates are racing to assemble their campaign teams and raise money, Ehrlich seems content to take things slow and steady.
“It’s about getting in front of a lot of audiences in states that count, and it’s about figuring out whether on a personal level I want to do this, and it’s about on a professional level and a patriotic level whether I think I can be a viable candidate,” he explains. “And coming out of the bleachers that’s a very hard call.”