The candidates in Maryland's race for governor sprinted between the Washington suburbs and Baltimore yesterday, as Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) worked vigorously to tamp down her base and Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) tried diligently to chip into it.
Between the two of them, the candidates spent the morning visiting seven predominantly black churches in Prince George's County, then moved on to mingle in Jewish and working-class communities. Ehrlich, meanwhile, made an all-out bid for the votes of moderate Democrats, enlisting popular former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani to counter Townsend's claims that Ehrlich is too conservative for Maryland.
"Bob is the kind of Republican I feel strongly about," Giuliani (R) told a sign-waving crowd of about 1,000 supporters in Gaithersburg. "He is, I guess, what you would describe as socially moderate. He's independent."
Townsend continued to challenge Ehrlich's credentials as a moderate, contrasting his recent efforts to attract African American voters with what she described as her own deeper ties to that community.
"This is not someone who's had a campaign conversion," she said of herself. "I'm not any Bobby-come-lately."
Just two days before voters head to the polls, yesterday's campaign trail offered a window into opposing strategies in the extraordinarily close race. Democrats must energize their supporters, who tend to be less reliable voters than Republicans. The GOP, meanwhile, remains greatly outnumbered in Maryland and can win only by converting a significant number of Democratic and independent voters.
Both efforts were crystallized in the breakneck tour through some of Prince George's County's fastest-growing churches, where endorsements from certain key ministers -- explicit or implicit -- can sway hundreds or even thousands of votes.
Most ministers at the four churches Townsend visited praised the lieutenant governor and gave her plentiful time at the podium but stopped short of directly asking congregants to vote for her. One, though, was dramatically more blunt.
"I don't care what your persuasion is, you need to pull out your Democratic finger," said the Rev. John A. Cherry, miming a flip of a voting-booth lever before an overflow crowd at his 24,000-member From the Heart Church Ministries in Temple Hills.
"If it sounds like I'm endorsing," Cherry added, "take it as you want to."
At Ark of Safety Christian Church in Oxon Hill, the organ player erupted into a dramatic glissando as Pastor C. Anthony Muse solemnly asked the crowd of about 300 to go vote tomorrow. "Make sure we have a voice in this community, in this county, in this state," he said.
Then Muse, a former state delegate and county executive candidate, spoke warmly of his personal ties to Townsend. "She's one of the few people who has lunch with me once a year," he said. "The rest just do it once every four years."
Townsend paraphrased the Old Testament book of Habakkuk -- "have a vision, write it on tablets and run with it!" -- to lead into a pitch for her "32-page plan" for the state. She promised the congregation stiffer firearms regulations, cheaper prescription drugs for senior citizens and higher salaries for teachers -- this last one drawing a "yea!" from the pews.
Ehrlich dove headlong into Democratic turf, starting the day at the Capitol Heights church of his congressional colleague, Albert R. Wynn (D), a Townsend supporter.
Larry W. Jordan, the pastor of Maple Springs Baptist Church, thanked Ehrlich for visiting but did not allow news cameras to follow him into the sanctuary and did not invite him to speak. An usher told one Ehrlich aide coolly, "This is a place to come for worship, not just for show."
Ehrlich found a warmer response at Jericho City of Praise in Landover, a church where, just a few days earlier, Townsend had led a rousing evening rally with former president Bill Clinton.
Taking the stage with running mate Michael S. Steele, an African American resident of Prince George's, Ehrlich acknowledged to the audience of about 500 that he was nervous. He told them his visit was not intended to be a campaign stop and never directly asked for their votes, but asked them to pray for him if he wins.
Clarence Jackson, a facilities manager at the church, said he preferred Ehrlich's remarks to the more politically oriented speech by Townsend. "I felt something personal with him. He connected."
"I'm not sure his visit was about votes," the Rev. Bobby Henry said later. "I can't tell you he got votes, either. But it was meaningful to us that he came. It helps us come together as a community."
Townsend later attended a bull roast for the Quo Vadis Democratic Club in Dundalk and a spaghetti dinner at a Catholic church in Baltimore's Little Italy, followed by appearances at a Potomac synagogue and the Montgomery County African-American Coalition.
Her opponent spent the afternoon at a "Democrats for Ehrlich" rally at a bagel shop in Pikesville, then a rally in the more Republican-friendly territory of Frederick.
Ehrlich also managed to raise $600,000 yesterday, with help from Giuliani, who posed for photographs with fans at $2,000 apiece. An aide to Ehrlich said the event pushed his total fundraising close to $11 million.