Former vice president Al Gore yesterday urged Maryland Democrats to remember the outrage they felt over the results of the 2000 presidential election and channel it to bring voters to the polls in the tight gubernatorial race.
Appearing with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend at a boisterous rally at Bowie State University, Gore asked people whether they recalled where they were when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to discontinue counting ballots from the disputed Florida vote two years ago.
Dozens of hands shot up.
"Are you over it?" Gore asked, to which the crowd shouted that it was not. "Use that feeling as a source of energy and drive and commitment. And if anyone tells you that one vote doesn't make a difference, send them to me."
Gore's appearance came as Townsend seeks to energize black voters in Prince George's County and Baltimore, where Democrats are counting on high voter turnout to eke out a victory over Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. In recent days, polls have shown the candidates for governor in a virtual dead heat.
Townsend is to return to Prince George's today, this time with former president Bill Clinton, who will speak at a rally for her and 8th District congressional candidate Christopher Van Hollen Jr. at Jericho City of Praise Church in Landover.
Ehrlich, for his part, also campaigned in Prince George's yesterday, stopping in Capitol Heights at the St. Paul's Senior Center and the Mission of Love, a relief organization that provides food and clothing to people in need.
He pledged to start a faith-based initiative in Maryland that would allow churches to work in partnership with the state government.
Ehrlich, who was joined by his running mate, Michael S. Steele, acknowledged that it will be difficult to win black votes. "I understand that I have 2 1/2 strikes against me. I am a white guy from the suburbs and I am a Republican," Ehrlich said. "I just ask people to give us an even break."
In a recent Washington Post poll, the Republican captured 7 percent of the black vote, while Townsend won 85 percent. Despite the gap, Democrats are concerned that even a small number of defections among black voters -- or some deciding to stay home -- could cost Townsend the election.
To help churn enthusiasm, Townsend brought out members of her famous family, including her mother, Ethel Kennedy, and her uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. With them was Martin Luther King III, son of the civil rights leader.
The entourage appeared with Townsend at the day's showcase event, the rally at Bowie State, which drew hundreds of supporters who roared with approval at speeches by Gore, Kennedy and King.
When it was her turn to greet the students, Townsend slipped and said, "It's great to be at Coppin State University" -- a mistake that prompted a smattering of chuckles and confusion in the crowd.
Townsend tried to recover by saying, "I'm so sorry, but I could never tell the difference between a touchdown and a football" -- a reference to a gaffe she once made, saying that the Baltimore Ravens had scored a football.
A coalition of black ministers endorsed Townsend at a spirited midday rally at the Woodmore country club in Mitchellville. The Rev. Gregory Perkins, the organization's president, dismissed Ehrlich's attempts to portray himself as a moderate, saying, "He is a Newt Gingrich, Contract on America Republican."
But the star of the rally was Gore, whose introduction prompted chants of "2004!," a reference to the next presidential election.
Gore reminded his audience that the only date that mattered was Tuesday's election. After praising Townsend as "the finest lieutenant governor in the United States," Gore smiled and said, "I personally feel when the number two does an outstanding job, they ought to move up."
Then, with a quick reference to the turmoil of the 2000 election, he repeated the message of the day: Every vote counts.
Gore later appeared with Townsend at two events in Montgomery County but traded his fiery oratory for some stand-up shtick.
Before hundreds of senior citizens at the Ring House in Rockville, he noted his concern about the lagging economy. "I was the first person laid off a year ago January 20," he said.
He then talked about what must happen between now and Tuesday. "It's your willingness to turn out the vote . . . your decision will determine the outcome of this election," he said.
Staff writers Hamil R. Harris and Michael H. Cottman contributed to this report.