O'Malley's crude ads don't bode well for gubernatorial race

Saturday, July 3, 2010

TARRING FORMER governor Robert L. Ehrlich (R) as a lobbyist, as the campaign of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has done in recent radio advertising, is a serious stretch. Tying him to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which a radio ad by the O'Malley camp also attempts, is ludicrous. When he hasn't been holding forth on his regular radio talk show the past few years, Mr. Ehrlich has made a living working for a law firm whose practice includes lobbying. But it doesn't appear that he did much or any of it; at least, there's no evidence that he did. And although Mr. Ehrlich has been evasive about the details of what he has been doing, it appears mostly to involve glad-handing prospects to sign up as clients of the firm.

The O'Malley ads cite Mr. Ehrlich's votes, as a member of Congress from 1995 to 2003, in favor of expanded drilling in the gulf and tax breaks for oil companies -- votes that had broad bipartisan support at the time, including that of prominent Maryland Democrats who are now Mr. O'Malley's allies. Yawn.

The ads also mock Mr. Ehrlich for acknowledging that he made a lot of money in the private sector. We look forward to Mr. O'Malley's public pledge that he will renounce any high-paying occupation if and when he leaves public service.

Mr. O'Malley's efforts to pigeonhole his opponent as an odious lobbyist -- worse, a lobbyist for big oil interests -- are not exactly an innovative rewriting of the American political campaign playbook; it's the same old text, right there in the chapter titled "Distortions." But they do provide an unfortunate preview of the sort of lowbrow name-calling that passes for a gubernatorial campaign in Maryland these days.

It would be a lot more edifying to hear Mr. O'Malley -- and Mr. Ehrlich, if he ever raises enough money to get his message out -- on the subject of Maryland's challenges. Let's hear a debate on the best strategies for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay; easing the burden of homeowners faced with foreclosure; fixing the state's long-term deficit; creating jobs. Let's hear how each of them will find money to build the Purple Line or maintain high standards at the University of Maryland in tough economic times. Now those would be debates worth having.

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