O'Malley, Ehrlich focus on specific areas as governor's race nears end

Former Md. Gov. Robert Ehrlich squared-off against current Governor Martin O'Malley in a spirited debate Thursday at The Washington Post.
By John Wagner and Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010; 11:15 PM

After a pair of polls showed Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) trailing badly in his bid to win his job back, the former Maryland governor retreated last week to the back patio of a blue-collar pub in the heart of his political base.

Speaking at an event where he was surrounded by die-hard Baltimore County supporters, Ehrlich gave marching orders to Joe Sliwka, a campaign aide who was seated next to Ehrlich's parents on a metal bench.

To offset the advantage Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has in the Washington suburbs, Ehrlich told Sliwka, he expects to win 58 percent of the votes in Baltimore County, a vast improvement over four years ago.

"Or more!" Sliwka, Ehrlich's campaign coordinator for the county, shot back.

As the race draws to a close, the two major gubernatorial candidates are largely focused on winning over two different Marylands.

A Washington Post analysis of more than 500 appearances by the candidates and their running mates over the past 90 days shows O'Malley has spent the most time trying to energize voters in reliably Democratic jurisdictions. Ehrlich is concentrating on the Baltimore suburbs and trying to drive up turnout in the less populated but more conservative eastern and western regions of the state. An early push to make inroads in Montgomery County seems to have stalled.

If enough voters turn out for O'Malley in the heavily Democratic Washington suburbs and in Baltimore, he is all but guaranteed a second term. Since Aug. 1, O'Malley and his running mate have shown up at nearly 180 events in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore - nearly three times as many as the Ehrlich ticket.

"This election, more than any other, is all about turnout," Ehrlich said in an interview. "You have to pump up your base, and you hope to get to better numbers in the Washington suburbs than last time."

Ehrlich's only path to victory at this point hinges on phenomenal turnout from the five suburban counties that ring Baltimore - coupled with historically weak showings for a Democratic incumbent in the areas where he should be strongest. One of every four of Ehrlich's campaign stops has been in Baltimore County since Aug. 1.

The importance of the region will be evident Saturday morning as Ehrlich, a former congressman from the area, kicks off the final weekend of his comeback campaign in Dundalk with a rally meant to showcase the Republican's strength with conservative Democrats.

There has been no greater disparity in time spent by the two campaigns than in Prince George's, the state's largest majority African-American jurisdiction.

As of Friday, O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), a former Prince George's delegate, had made 70 appearances in the county since Aug. 1, including both campaign stops and visits billed as part of their official duties.

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