Democrats Look for Edge as Race Heats Up

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler received endorsements from Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Rep. Albert R. Wynn. Gansler also began running ads in Baltimore.
Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler received endorsements from Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Rep. Albert R. Wynn. Gansler also began running ads in Baltimore. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 3, 2006

The race to elect Maryland's first new attorney general in nearly two decades heated up this week, as the first television ad of the campaign began airing yesterday and several major endorsements were announced.

Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, one of three candidates for the Democratic nomination, began running a television ad in Baltimore aimed at raising his name recognition in a part of the state where he is little-known.

Gansler also scored endorsements from two prominent Prince George's County politicians, appearing in Largo yesterday morning with County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Rep. Albert R. Wynn. Today, he plans to announce support from the Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats and some Montgomery lawmakers.

Baltimore lawyer Stuart O. Simms, who is also seeking the nomination, will counter today with an endorsement from Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Simms campaign chairman Larry Gibson said. The third candidate, Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring), who this week won a legal victory when a judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging his eligibility for the office, has picked up endorsements from several organizations, including the AFL-CIO, that can provide volunteer help.

Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle is running unopposed for the GOP nomination.

They are seeking to replace Democrat J. Joseph Curran, who is retiring this year after five terms as attorney general. Although polls show Simms with a slight lead over Gansler, all three Democratic candidates are relatively unknown, and most of the electorate is undecided. This makes the question of endorsements and television ads particularly significant.

Gansler's ad, which mentions his name four times in 30 seconds and portrays the candidate as a "hands-on" prosecutor, is to be played often enough in the Baltimore market that the average viewer should see it seven times a week. "We're going on TV early, because there are a lot of undecided voters," said a Gansler campaign official. The ad probably will start airing in the more expensive Washington market in mid-August, the aide said.

"We need to make sure people in other parts of the state know about me," Gansler said.

Perez said his campaign will air television ads but will wait until closer to the Sept. 12 primary, when people are back from vacation. "We're going to use our money surgically," Perez said. Gibson declined to say whether Simms would run TV ads.

Yesterday's endorsement by two popular African American politicians may help Gansler make inroads among black voters in Prince George's who might otherwise have supported Simms.

Wynn said: "Obviously as an African American, Stu is going to get a lot of support, but Doug is going to get a lot of support because of his personality and enthusiasm. Doug is a hustler."

Gibson played down the significance of the endorsements, pointing to others Simms has received, including that of Prince George's State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey. "We're getting the lion's share of endorsements," he said.

Simms, who served in the Cabinet of then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, began the campaign running for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

When Duncan dropped out of the race in late June, citing problems with depression, Simms decided to run for attorney general. Much of his campaign staff came from the aborted Duncan race. But in recent weeks, Gibson, a longtime adviser to Simms, has asserted more control over the campaign and in the process disaffected some of the Duncan loyalists, according to interviews.

The Duncan campaign offered to transfer $100,000 from its coffers to a slate that could benefit the Simms campaign, according to a source familiar with the matter, but Simms was concerned that the Gansler campaign would challenge the legality of the transfer. State law limits to $6,000 the amount that can be directly transferred from one candidate to another.

Also yesterday, Stephen Abrams, a Republican who filed the suit challenging Perez's candidacy, said he intended to appeal Monday's decision by an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge that Perez's service in the U.S. Justice Department satisfies a state constitution requirement that candidates have a decade of legal experience in the state.

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