National GOP group running ads for Ehrlich

The Maryland governor's race comes to Washington-area televisions -- as usual, well after Baltimore -- with this spot by O'Malley highlighting the state's schools.
By Aaron C. Davis and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A deep-pocketed national Republican group is stepping into Maryland's gubernatorial race on Tuesday, countering the launch of Gov. Martin O'Malley's first costly television ad in the Washington region with one of its own, saying the buy shows the party thinks the race is winnable for former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The move by the Republican Governors Association signals the beginning of the nationalization of a race in Washington's back yard that could grow increasingly fierce.

Titled "Backwards," the ad is a broad attack on tax increases that O'Malley signed in 2007 and subsequent job losses in the state during the national recession. It's also a play on O'Malley's campaign theme of "Moving Maryland Forward."

It comes the same day O'Malley will begin airing a commercial on network television in the Washington area highlighting the state's advances in student test scores, a four-year freeze on tuition at public universities and other education achievements during his tenure.

Jennifer Duffy, senior analyst at the Cook Political Report, said the burst of spending by the two sides in the Washington market signals the beginning of a significantly more expensive, and final, chapter to the rematch between the two candidates. Duffy said the RGA money could help Ehrlich, who trails O'Malley in fundraising by a ratio of nearly 3-to-1, keep pace until he can afford to begin airing his own ads closer to the election.

More importantly, however, Duffy said the national Republican involvement would seem to indicate that RGA strategists think the race is more competitive than some others and that the group is willing to spend money to see if it can have an impact.

"There is enough demand for money this cycle that you don't buy statewide TV to blow smoke; you buy it so you can see if you can move some numbers," Duffy said. "The fact is that nobody has really taken a shot at O'Malley, and I think the RGA would like to see whether their ads can make an impression."

The RGA's 30-second ad runs through a litany of statistics on higher taxes, unemployment and other economic indicators -- some that flowed from O'Malley's policies and others common to any state during the recession. "Martin O'Malley: higher taxes, fewer jobs -- moving Maryland backwards," it concludes.

The group also plans to launch a Web site,

RGA spokesman Chris Schrimpf said that the 30-second ad would begin airing statewide Tuesday on network and cable stations and that the RGA would "stay engaged" until Election Day. But he would not say specifically if the group would continue to purchase ads.

"Maryland is very exciting for us," Schrimpf said. "There are many blue states with open races where we are competitive, but Maryland is one where there's an incumbent governor that we're competitive against. The people of Maryland are disappointed in their governor. He raised taxes before the recession came along, and it set up Marylanders horribly for when the economy turned."

O'Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese, who had not seen the RGA's ad but was aware it was coming, said that the campaign was not surprised Ehrlich "and his national Republican allies would launch negative attack ads."

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