In a sea of Democrats who gathered last night in celebration and fund raising for one of their own, there appeared an unlikely presence - U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the leading Republican gubernatorial candidate.
Ehrlich said he attended the event for state Del. Rushern L. Baker III at Union Station in Washington because the two are longtime friends. Baker, who raised about $100,000 last night, is seeking the Democratic nomination for Prince George's county executive.
As the state's second-largest jurisdiction, Prince George's is one of this election year's critical campaign areas in the gubernatorial race. And as a predominantly African-American county, a Republican candidate will likely need every opportunity to gain support there.
Baker is one of six Democrats competing in the race for executive. No Republicans appear to be interested in running for the job.
But it was clear that even Ehrlich, who has many Democratic friends, knew he had to tread carefully on this political turf, during an event at which his leading Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, was the featured speaker.
Ehrlich said he called Baker yesterday morning to make sure it was OK for him to attend.
"I don't want to get you in trouble," Ehrlich said he told Baker.
And although Ehrlich appeared welcome to most people, the presence of a Republican at the affair didn't go unnoticed.
"Can you believe he came into the wrong room?" said Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, and then laughed. "The Republicans are in the other room."
Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, barred by term limits from seeking re-election, also was among the more than 400 people attending. He said that because Prince George's will play a pivotal role in the election, he understands why Ehrlich would attend.
Of Baker, Curry and Townsend said he is simply a well-liked person statewide.
"I think Rushern Baker cares about bringing people together," said Townsend, who said she does not intend to endorse any candidates in the Prince George's race because many of them are her friends.
Baker, who has been a delegate for eight years, is facing a highly competitive race. He said he appreciates Ehrlich joining in the celebration of his accomplishments.
"People across party lines, whether Republican or Democrat, support my career," Baker said.