Bigwigs electrify Md.'s top race

By John Wagner and Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 22, 2010

With less than two weeks remaining before Election Day, Maryland's two leading gubernatorial candidates clashed over health care and minority issues during a Baltimore radio debate Thursday before retreating to afternoon rallies designed to fire up their respective political bases.

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) tapped two of his party's biggest stars - Vice President Biden and former president Bill Clinton - to help raise money and build enthusiasm among Democrats at a rally overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

"You got a governor here who froze tuition for four years so you wouldn't have to drop out of college," Clinton said, addressing the younger members of a diverse crowd of close to 1,000 at Federal Hill Park. "How can you stay home?"

Clinton and other speakers also stressed that early voting begins Friday in Maryland. In a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, ensuring that enough of his party's voters get to the polls is key to O'Malley's fate Nov. 2.

Meanwhile, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) capped a busy day on the campaign trail with a rally in Baltimore County, the suburban jurisdiction where blue-collar Democrats helped propel him to his 2002 victory. Before the rally, Ehrlich staged his second event in two days, this one in Columbia, to draw attention to his opposition to the federal health-care overhaul - his latest attempt to draw a clear distinction with O'Malley.

The issue was also prominent in a morning debate on Baltimore's WOLB-AM between Ehrlich and O'Malley, who has been a vocal supporter of President Obama's initiative.

The law is "anti-market - it hurts working people, it raises taxes and does not get to the bottom line with regard to what it is supposed to do, which is increase access and affordable cost," Ehrlich said. "It's more in the direction of a Canadian-, European-style health-care delivery system."

O'Malley countered that Obama had been "courageous" to tackle the issue and recounted steps the state has taken to extend subsidized health insurance to more than 200,000 Marylanders in recent years despite the economic downturn.

Ehrlich "did absolutely nothing to advance the cause," O'Malley told host Larry Young, a former state senator from Baltimore.

The debate was also broadcast on a sister station in Prince George's County, Maryland's other majority African-American jurisdiction.

During the hour-long encounter, the candidates also argued over the importance of an education initiative that provides additional money to jurisdictions - including Baltimore and Prince George's counties - where the cost of providing education is higher. O'Malley has committed to funding the $127 million program, which also benefits Montgomery County; Ehrlich has not.

O'Malley said Ehrlich's unwillingness to fund the program was one of few specific plans Ehrlich has shared this election year. Ehrlich countered that the initiative has become a "political football" and that O'Malley did not fund it during his first year in office, either.

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