Duncan Redoubles Efforts in New Ads

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 13, 2006

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan continued an unusually early television ad campaign, unveiling two spots yesterday that take aim at his rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination as well as the Republican incumbent.

Representatives of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. quickly chided Duncan for ads that they said were negative and mischaracterized their records.

Both spots are airing only in the Baltimore media market, where Duncan is striving to become better known in the four months until the Democratic primary. As with a largely biographical ad that started airing last week, Duncan appears on camera alongside nearly life-size cardboard cutouts representing O'Malley and Ehrlich.

In one of the new 15-second ads, Duncan says O'Malley and Ehrlich have "spent all their time fighting for political advantage" rather than working to improve Baltimore's troubled schools. Duncan then directs viewers to his education plan.

In the other new spot, Duncan accuses O'Malley of exaggerating crime reductions in his city and criticizes Ehrlich's lack of support for a statewide ban on assault weapons. "Like that's gonna help us," Duncan says before directing viewers to his crime plan.

Duncan aides declined to say how much the campaign is spending on its early advertising or how long it might continue. In past cycles, candidates have waited until much closer to the election to air ads. In many cases, they have barely announced their campaigns at this time of year. O'Malley and Duncan began their campaigns in the fall.

"This is a contest that began very early, and the worst thing that could happen to Duncan is that he appears to just stagnate," said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "He needs to show campaign contributors that he is a viable candidate."

Duncan has lagged far behind O'Malley and Ehrlich in fundraising. Recent primary polls have shown him trailing O'Malley. A survey last month by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies showed O'Malley leading by 9 percentage points among likely Democratic primary voters. Another statewide poll, conducted about the same time by OpinionWorks, showed a margin of 17 percentage points.

Jonathan Epstein, O'Malley's campaign manager, said Duncan missed a chance to change the tone of the campaign with his ads.

"Mr. Duncan had the opportunity with these ads to present a positive vision for Maryland, but because he has no positive vision, he has instead continued his negative attack-style politics," Epstein said.

Bo Harmon of Ehrlich's campaign took issue with Duncan's allegation that Ehrlich "thinks we need more assault weapons on the street." Although Ehrlich has not supported a ban, he has taken other steps to reduce guns on the street, Harmon said.

Separately yesterday, Duncan and his running mate, Baltimore lawyer Stuart O. Simms, received the endorsements of seven local labor unions at an event in Laurel. A dozen other labor organizations had previously endorsed Duncan. O'Malley has received labor endorsements as well, including that of the statewide AFL-CIO.

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