Duncan Fires the First Salvo in the Television Ad Wars

Michael S. Steele called for a suspension of the federal gas tax and other measures at a news conference in Annapolis.
Michael S. Steele called for a suspension of the federal gas tax and other measures at a news conference in Annapolis. (By Kathleen Lange -- Associated Press)
By John Wagner and Matthew Mosk
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan today becomes the first candidate for governor to start advertising on television, debuting spots in the Baltimore media market on the same day he formally unveils his running mate.

Duncan (D) appears on camera, offers a quick biography and suggests himself as an alternative to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr . (R) -- both of whom appear in the ads as nearly life-size cardboard cutouts. "These guys get lots of attention to themselves," Duncan tells viewers. "It's time someone paid attention to you. We don't have to settle for the way things are, because, Maryland, it's time to think bigger."

Duncan spokesman Jody Couser said the spots are appearing on Baltimore's ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX affiliates. She would not disclose other details of the buy.

"It's important that Doug continue to introduce himself to the Baltimore market, and this is one of many components of that effort," Couser said.

An executive with WBAL (Channel 11), Baltimore's NBC affiliate, said that Duncan's initial buy on that station was for two days at a cost of $14,000 and that the spots would air primarily on morning shows.

Ad purchases in the Baltimore television market, which reaches more than half the state, are less expensive than those in the Washington market. But it is unclear how much airtime Duncan can afford. As of January, he had about $1.4 million in the bank, about one-third the cash O'Malley had on hand.

"It's very telling that Mr. Duncan is launching an ad campaign this early in the race," said O'Malley spokesman Hari Sevugan . "He has a lot of ground to make up, given every statewide poll has shown him trailing Martin O'Malley by overwhelming margins in the Baltimore media market."

Duncan is slated to get additional exposure today as he formally announces Stuart O. Simms , a Baltimore lawyer, as his pick for a lieutenant governor candidate at events in Largo and Baltimore.

Steele Tackles Gas Prices

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) knew better than to arrive at his news conference on energy issues in the Chevy Suburban he uses to move about the state.

Steele, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat, walked the three blocks to a downtown Annapolis Exxon service station to announce a plan to bring relief to folks paying more than $3 per gallon at the pump.

The plan included a 120-day suspension of the federal gas tax, extending tax credits for those who drive hybrid vehicles and more federal spending on alternative sources of energy.

Asked how he would pay for his plan, Steele said it was not a concern. "The cost to the government is negligible; the cost to the family is huge," he said.

Steele also had tough words for Washington politicians backed by oil and gas interests.

"By removing Washington politicians who are beholden to the energy industry, Marylanders will finally see an energy plan that isn't economically or environmentally short-sighted," he said.

Democrats noted that Steele has raised thousands of dollars from energy executives and taken donations from such political action committees as the Petroleum Marketers Association and Crown Central Petroleum.

"Steele talked vaguely about removing Washington politicians beholden to the energy industry," said Terry Lierman , chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party. "Which ones? Big Oil men like George Bush , Dick Cheney or Senators Bill Frist , James Inhofe and John Cornyn , who have helped him raise millions of dollars?"

Steele campaign spokesman Doug Heye said the candidate had others in mind, namely, Benjamin L. Cardin and Kweisi Mfume , two Democrats running for the same Senate seat.

"He feels that Republicans and Democrats in Washington have failed to produce legislation to lower the costs Marylanders pay at the pump," Heye said.

Immigrant Health Bill Signed

A stack of bills signed into law by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) yesterday included legislation that would earmark at least $3 million to provide health care to legal immigrant children and pregnant women in fiscal 2008.

The measure, supported by immigrants' rights and health-care advocates and overwhelmingly approved by the legislature, will at least partially restore health care to immigrants cut last year from a state-funded Medicaid program, said Del. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George's), who sponsored the bill.

"We're helping people -- our most vulnerable," Ramirez said. "If the feds are not willing to step up, we at the state level have a duty to provide health care to residents here in the state of Maryland."

In a State House ceremony yesterday, the governor also signed legislation that would make it easier for couples, including same-sex partners, to make medical decisions for each other. The new law sets up a statewide registry for advance directives -- written instructions filed by individuals reflecting their wishes for medical treatment.

Another measure doubles the penalties for young people caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and imposes a mandatory one-year license suspension for anyone under 21 driving while impaired.

Staff writer Mary Otto contributed to this report.

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