Martin O'Malley off to unconventional start in Md. reelection bid

Gov. Martin O'Malley seeks another term.
Gov. Martin O'Malley seeks another term. (Gail Burton - AP)
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By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 2, 2010

When Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley was introduced by his deputy in Baltimore last week as "the best governor in America," he launched his reelection campaign without a single new promise or once uttering his opponent's name.

Instead, O'Malley (D), squinting under the midday sun near the glittering harbor, started here: "There's much more than what divides us. The most important things that we share are the beliefs that unite us. A belief in the dignity of every individual. A belief in our own responsibility to advance the common good. A belief that there is a unity to spirit and matter."

To say that O'Malley last week began his campaign on a different page from former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) would be an understatement.

Ehrlich, in the first weeks of their rematch, has pledged to fix "the mess in Annapolis" and repeal the O'Malley-era one-cent sales tax increase.

But O'Malley's opening speeches seemed geared as much for a national audience as the one in Maryland. Some phrases, such as "unity of spirit and matter," were familiar for a governor known to slip in obscure Irish verse into his speeches.

O'Malley seemed buoyed by the state's first positive monthly jobs report in nearly 1 1/2 years and a surprising resurgence announced last month in the blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay.

Political strategists and observers said that it appeared he was betting, at least early on, that speaking in generalities about his accomplishments claiming success in navigating the recession would resonate with voters.

"We weren't able to foresee that we'd be going through the deepest recession, the greatest job loss in our country's history since the Great Depression, but you know what? That's when strong leadership, when the leadership that has the humility to bring people together to make the tough decisions is even more important. And that's what we have been doing. Bringing people together to move us forward."

The latter was O'Malley's most often repeated line of the week. He's the candidate who will "move Maryland forward," he said, while his opponent would "take Maryland back." In a speech at Prince George's Community College, he shook his fist and said, "This battle is not about the next election, it's about the next generation . . . when times are tough, we don't make excuses, we make progress."

At times, O'Malley regained the swagger he brought to Annapolis as a once hot-shot, big-city mayor rumored to be possible vice presidential material.

"I still see JFK in him," said Mohammad Siddique, a Montgomery County project manager, as he left a nighttime rally in Rockville, hands thrust in his pockets to keep warm. "Part of it is probably the Irish, but he is inspiring. I think someday he will live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

Richard E. Vatz, a conservative professor of political rhetoric at Towson University who annually invites Ehrlich to speak to his students, said O'Malley and Ehrlich want to keep the race from becoming negative or personal too early. But Vatz said the governor is also just being himself.

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