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Owings poised to challenge O'Malley in Md. governor's race

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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 29, 2009

George W. Owings III, a former legislator from Southern Maryland and former state secretary of veterans affairs, appears poised to formally announce next week that he will challenge Gov. Martin O'Malley in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Owings, a Democrat who served in the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), has scheduled a news conference for Jan. 6 outside the courthouse in Prince Frederick.

In an interview Monday, Owings, 64, declined to confirm that he is running for governor next year -- a prospect he has openly talked about since the spring -- but said that he will not be endorsing the reelection of O'Malley.

"You can assume that is correct," said Owings, a Dunkirk resident who has been highly critical of O'Malley's handling of the state budget. "I will be making a formal announcement. It will be positive in nature."

It remains to be seen what kind of traction Owings might gain running to the right of a far-better-funded incumbent in a Democratic primary.

"Historically, the liberal side of the party is what comes out in a primary," Owings said. "But I think there's a feeling in this current climate that is going to motivate those who would otherwise stay home to come out. There's a sense of desperation out there, of real fear."

For 16 years, Owings served as a Democratic delegate, becoming majority whip. Ehrlich, Maryland's first Republican chief executive in a generation, tapped him in 2004 as veterans secretary. O'Malley replaced Owings four months into his administration in 2007.

Owings dismissed speculation that he is running at the urging of Ehrlich, who is contemplating a rematch with O'Malley next year. "I haven't spoken to the former governor in several months," Owings said.

Asked to assess O'Malley's governorship, Owings said, "I honestly think he has tried."

But among O'Malley's shortcomings, Owings said, has been a tendency to make incremental budget cuts rather than long-term changes. "He refuses to take those hard steps," Owings said.

Aides to O'Malley declined to comment on a potential Owings candidacy.

Polls in recent months have shown that O'Malley has lukewarm approval ratings, and the economy is expected to pose a challenge for Democratic governors seeking reelection in the coming year.

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