O'Malley, Party Try To Stir Base Vote

From left, U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, gubernatorial candidate Martin O'Malley, lieutenant governor candidate Anthony Brown and comptroller candidate Peter Franchot were among the Democrats assembled in Silver Spring.
From left, U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, gubernatorial candidate Martin O'Malley, lieutenant governor candidate Anthony Brown and comptroller candidate Peter Franchot were among the Democrats assembled in Silver Spring. (Photos By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
By Steve Vogel and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 30, 2006

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley looked at the sea of enthusiastic Democratic supporters at a Silver Spring high school yesterday and was quick to lay claim to his roots.

"It's great to be back in Montgomery County, my home county," O'Malley, who grew up in Bethesda and Rockville, said at the outset of his remarks at a rally at Montgomery Blair High School.

Both Democrats and Republicans are pouring time and resources into capturing votes in Maryland's most populous county, and any hometown claim a candidate can make cannot hurt.

With 273,234 registered Democrats in Montgomery -- more than twice the 125,534 Republicans -- it is a battle the Democrats can feel comfortable about winning. But the margin of victory will probably play a large role in determining the outcome of both O'Malley's gubernatorial race against Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the U.S. Senate race between Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

Ehrlich and Steele appeared in the county last week and say they hope to improve on their performance in 2002.

Yesterday's rally -- held before several hundred cheering and sign-waving supporters -- was part of an effort to mobilize the Democratic base and to reach out to Democratic voters who do not normally vote in non-presidential election years. O'Malley was joined by all of the statewide candidates, including Cardin, as well as a large roster of county Democrats.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, appearing with O'Malley for the first time since he dropped out of the Democratic primary for governor in June citing depression, was given a rousing welcome. In his remarks, Duncan criticized a new television ad for Ehrlich that includes disparaging remarks the county executive made about O'Malley before dropping out of the race.

Duncan called the ad an attempt to "mislead the public" into believing he supported Ehrlich. "If they got quotes from me about Ehrlich, you couldn't print them," Duncan added.

Ehrlich, who was shown to be trailing O'Malley by 10 percentage points in a Washington Post poll published yesterday, said his campaign was making a vigorous play for the Montgomery vote.

"People tend to look at Prince George's County and Montgomery County as places a Republican is just not going to win," Ehrlich said Thursday during a visit to a Wheaton police station, where he announced funding for programs to track sexual predators. "However, you still need to hit your targets in order to win."

Although Republicans acknowledge that it is impractical to expect to win a majority of votes in Montgomery, they want to do better than in the last election, when Ehrlich won 38.3 percent of the vote against former lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D).

"We've picked up," Ehrlich said. However, the Post poll of 1,000 likely voters yesterday showed Ehrlich with no greater support in the Washington suburbs than he had in 2002.

But Ehrlich said the endorsement he received last week from the Washington Post might help him win over voters in the Washington suburbs. The governor said his positions on the environment, education and transportation -- including the intercounty connector -- have won him support.

"Last time, it was a very tough thing," Ehrlich said. "I was a Baltimore area congressman, unknown around here, running against Bobby Kennedy's daughter in the Washington suburbs. This time, I've spent a lot of time here."

O'Malley portrayed the governor yesterday as out of touch with the Montgomery electorate, hammering Ehrlich for saying two years ago that multiculturalism is "bunk."

"Anybody who doesn't think multiculturalism is good for America, come to Montgomery County," O'Malley said.

Democrats are hoping the presence of two Montgomery candidates on the statewide ticket -- State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, the nominee for attorney general, and Del. Peter Franchot, the nominee for comptroller -- will bring out voters who will also support O'Malley and Cardin.

In an effort to blunt the impact of the Post poll, Ehrlich's campaign sent a memo to supporters via e-mail suggesting the contest was much tighter. It said the most recent survey conducted by Ehrlich's pollster found O'Malley leading Ehrlich 46 percent to 45 percent. One percent favored third-party candidates, the memo said, and 8 percent were undecided.

"We are sending this information to you because we are convinced that recent public polls have been wildly off the mark and run counter to what we have been seeing," the Ehrlich campaign e-mail said.

Meanwhile, O'Malley won the endorsement of the Baltimore Sun yesterday. The Democratic candidate also touted the results of the Post poll. In an appearance in Arbutus, Ehrlich's home town, O'Malley acknowledged that polls are only "snapshots in time."

"The nice thing about this snapshot is it's only nine days out and we're 10 points up," O'Malley said.

His comments came at an event where O'Malley won the endorsements of two former leaders of Democrats for Ehrlich, a group formed in 2002 to support the then-congressman.

"I am ashamed, embarrassed and feel very foolish for what I did," said Wayne Frazier, the group's former chairman.

Staff researcher Rena Kirsch contributed to this report.

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