Down in polls, Ehrlich tries to focus on January

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Robert Ehrlich talk about the impact of the recession on the Maryland economy and possible means of job creation.
By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 25, 2010; 8:16 PM

Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. pledged Monday to use his first day back in office to take quick action on several priorities, including cutting the state sales tax and halting plans for a costly light-rail line in the Washington suburbs.

The announcement, staged at a blue-collar pub in the heart of Ehrlich's political base, was an attempt to re-energize a campaign that has been set back by a series of polls in recent days showing the Republican falling further behind Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

Speaking to supporters in Essex, Ehrlich also promised that he would immediately seek to spare Marylanders from the federal health care law and set up a bipartisan panel known as the "Recovery Maryland" team that would identify barriers to job creation.

"First job, priority one, is going to be the regulatory environment in Maryland," Ehrlich said. "We're going to get a group of really smart people on this really fast."

None of his initiatives are entirely new. And with little more than a week until the election, even some of Ehrlich's diehard supporters seemed more focused on recent polls than on his plans for January.

Polls by The Washington Post on Monday and The Baltimore Sun on Sunday both showed Ehrlich trailing O'Malley by 14 percentage points. Other recent surveys have shown smaller but widening gaps.

In remarks before Ehrlich spoke, Don Crockett, an organizer of the event, ripped up a copy of the Sun that reported on its poll, delighting the crowd gathered on the back patio of the Portside Pub.

Ehrlich was more sanguine, saying the winner Nov. 2 will be the candidate who gets more of his supporters to come out to vote. "It's a cliche because it's the truth: It's all turnout," he said. "It's a turnout election."

Ehrlich's appearance, the only public event on his calendar Monday, came as O'Malley kicked off a whirlwind statewide tour. Following a departure rally in Annapolis, other stops Monday included the Eastern Shore communities of Centreville, Easton, Cambridge and Salisbury.

In Easton, O'Malley was formally endorsed by Wayne T. Gilchrest, a former Republican congressman from Maryland's 1st District, who lauded the Democratic governor for his environmental stewardship.

In an e-mail to supporters Monday, O'Malley campaign manager Tom Russell called the recent polls "great news" but stressed the need to continue get-out-the-vote efforts and encourage early voting, an option in Maryland for the first time this year.

In Essex, Ehrlich said he would submit legislation on his first day in office to roll back the sales tax from 6 percent to 5 percent. The legislature raised the tax during a special session called by O'Malley in 2007 to address looming budget shortfalls.

O'Malley has been highly critical of Ehrlich's refusal to say how he would make up the more than $600 million in lost revenue that would result from cutting the tax, according to nonpartisan legislative staff.

Upon taking office, Ehrlich said he also would order government contractors to halt work on the proposed Purple Line rail project that would connect points in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

"The dollars aren't there," Ehrlich said, restating his preference for rapid bus service along the route instead.

Ehrlich aides said stopping the Purple Line and a proposed rail project in Baltimore could save the state $300 million in engineering costs that could be spent instead on local road projects.

O'Malley has been a booster of both rail projects, saying they would spur economic development.

Ehrlich also continued to ratchet up his criticism of the federal health-care law, seeking to draw a contrast with O'Malley, who has praised President Obama's decision to tackle the issue.

Ehrlich said he is hopeful Congress will be taken over by Republicans, who would start over on health-insurance reform. He said little about what his role as governor would be in this regard.

"This bill's bad for our country, and I'm not afraid to say it," Ehrlich said.

Staff writer Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.

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