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Obama urges Md. to keep 'Martin'

An island of calm?

President Obama campaigns for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley at Bowie State University. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown at is left.
President Obama campaigns for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley at Bowie State University. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown at is left. (Marvin Joseph)

While O'Malley tried to energize voters in Prince George's, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. held court with more than 100 women at a luncheon in Potomac. Ehrlich played down the significance of Obama's visit and said his own message would resonate with Maryland voters.

"The country is in a fiscally conservative mood, and Maryland is, too," Ehrlich said in an interview. "People are very concerned about their mortgages and smart kids who can't get a job."

In much the way Republicans four years ago hoped Maryland would remain an island of calm for the party's incumbents in a storm of midterm upheaval, Democrats are banking that Maryland will remain a solidly blue state after Nov. 2.

The odds are looking better for O'Malley and Maryland Democrats this time than for Republicans and Ehrlich four years ago. Ehrlich's loss in 2006 came in a strong year for Democrats, but it was notable because he was the only incumbent governor with an approval rating of more than 50 percent to lose his seat.

Similarly, this year may be a strong one for Republicans, but a loss by O'Malley would be an even bigger upset. Democrats hold a 2 to 1 advantage over Republicans among registered voters, and they are lining up solidly behind O'Malley, according to recent polls. O'Malley is more popular now than at any time since 2004, according to a Washington Post poll released last week.

Introducing Obama, O'Malley yelled: "They can take back New Jersey, and they can take back Virginia, but they can't take back Maryland, because Maryland moves forward," he said, referring to Republican wins last year by governors Chis Christie and Robert F. McDonnell.

The youth, black votes

Obama has used Maryland as a backdrop for several events and policy announcements in the past two years, and he was expected to make at least one campaign stop in the state before next month.

But the president had committed to Thursday's event before recent polls showed O'Malley with a growing lead, and the stop in the traditionally blue state stood out in a calendar that has kept the president traveling mostly to true toss-up states, many in the Midwest. He flew to Illinois for campaign events after the rally in Bowie.

Obama's job in Maryland on Thursday fit with efforts he began last month to reinvigorate the youth and the black votes that helped propel him to victory two years ago.

As in other states, registration and voter turnout among those groups surged for Maryland Democrats in 2008. Maryland has a higher percentage of African Americans than any state outside the Deep South, and black voters tend to break heavily for Democrats. But turnout was dismal last month in Prince George's and other majority-black jurisdictions that will have few other competitive races besides that of O'Malley's on the ballot Nov. 2.

Strategists on both sides of Maryland's gubernatorial race say it will be nearly impossible for the Republican to win if African Americans can be motivated to go to the polls in numbers similar to those in 2008. They accounted for 25 percent of the electorate then, according to exit polls.

The message

Obama reiterated many themes familiar at recent campaign rallies on campuses in Wisconsin and elsewhere, but he built upon his criticism that special interests - and even foreign ones - are fueling excessive spending for Republicans, which he said has been cloaked by recent Supreme Court decisions.

"We're going to need to work even harder in this election. We are going to need to fight their millions of dollars with millions of voices," Obama said.

Onstage with Obama and O'Malley was Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who also has a big lead over Eric Wargotz (R) in her reelection bid. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and nearly every other member of Maryland's congressional delegation were also there.

One exception was Rep. Frank M. Kratovil Jr. His office said he spent afternoon knocking on doors in the Eastern Shore district where he faces a stiff challenge from state Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County).

For the feel-good afternoon for most Maryland Democrats, there were also signs on campus that the economy had worn down some and that turning out to vote wouldn't be as obvious a thing to do as two years ago.

Marietta Smith, 18, a sophomore from Bowie, was raising money for the Make a Wish Foundation on campus and did not get to hear the speeches. She said she is "leaning towards O'Malley." But despite his pledges to keep tuition low at Maryland's public universities, she said several friends could not afford to return to Bowie this year because they could not find the funds.

Staff writers Ann E. Marimow, Miranda S. Spivack and John Wagner contributed to this report.

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