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Schaefer Is Trailing In Comptroller's Race

Janet S. Owens, who is running for Maryland comptroller, shares a laugh with Howard Stone, a Prince George's school board candidate, on primary day.
Janet S. Owens, who is running for Maryland comptroller, shares a laugh with Howard Stone, a Prince George's school board candidate, on primary day. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)

Schaefer's blunt and quirky style, combined with a reputation for cutting red tape, has always been his calling card. But his cantankerous comments seemed to be wearing thin with some voters. His challengers raised questions about the incumbent's age and mental competence.

Schaefer kept the issue alive with his own behavior. It began earlier this year before election season, when he ogled a young female aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. at a public meeting, a moment caught on tape and shown often on television. Then in July he seemed to link South Korean immigrants with the recent testing of long-range missiles by North Korea.

Schaefer apologized but earlier this month rekindled the flames when he likened Owens to "Mother Hubbard." He also criticized her hairstyle and manner of dressing and suggested she was "getting fat."

Women's groups howled in protest. Schaefer said he was only responding to suggestions by Owens that he was too old to continue in office, and he accused his 62-year-old opponent of running a campaign based on "age discrimination."

Schaefer said the job he had done as a fiscal watchdog and protecting Maryland's AAA bond rating merited reelection to the job of comptroller.

Owens, the only woman running for statewide office in Maryland this year, promised a return of dignity to the office. She told voters her experience balancing Anne Arundel's budget and managing a growing county qualified her to be comptroller.

Franchot ran an aggressive campaign, trying to link both Schaefer and Owens to Ehrlich and claiming that he was "the only real Democrat in the race."

Franchot called Owens the "queen of sprawl," criticizing her for being too supportive of developers in Anne Arundel and suggesting she would act as a rubber stamp for Ehrlich on the Board of Public Works, which controls state contracts.

In the Republican primary, four candidates -- Montgomery school board member Stephen N. Abrams; Anne M. McCarthy, former University of Baltimore business school dean; Mark M. Spradley, a Republican activist; and Gene Zarwell, a frequent candidate -- were seeking the nomination for comptroller. Early returns showed McCarthy with a small lead over Abrams.

The race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general took several unexpected turns, first when Simms entered the race in late June, and then when Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) was forced out last month by Maryland's highest court.

Curran's announcement in May that he would not seek reelection after five terms marked the official start of the race. But Gansler and Perez had been working for months to line up support and raise money.

Gansler, completing his second term as Montgomery's top prosecutor, had a well-organized campaign ready to go, along with a formidable campaign chest that would eventually approach $2 million. He pledged to focus on law enforcement, saying he would target criminal gangs, and he also promised stricter enforcement of the state's environmental laws.

Perez launched a campaign to become the first Hispanic elected to statewide office in Maryland history and pledged to fight for the rights of workers and the poor.

The contest seemed to be settling into a two-man race between two Montgomery candidates. But the decision by Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan to drop out of the governor's race, citing depression, had a large ripple effect on the attorney general's race.

Simms, a former Baltimore prosecutor and Cabinet secretary under former Maryland governor Parris N. Glendening (D), was on Duncan's ticket as the candidate for lieutenant governor. But Duncan's decision in late June forced Simms to scramble. He entered the race for attorney general a few days before the deadline.

Last month, the race was again shaken when the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Perez did not meet a state constitutional requirement that the attorney general have practiced law in Maryland for 10 years.

The Perez decision seemed to revitalize the Simms campaign. Although some of the Perez supporters moved to the Gansler camp, Perez himself endorsed Simms.

A campaign that had largely been polite grew rougher during the final week, when Simms brought up Gansler's 2003 reprimand by the Court of Appeals for talking to the media for statements he made to reporters about two murder cases that the court said were prejudicial to the suspects.

Gansler responded by accusing Simms of running a negative campaign.

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