Townsend, Ehrlich step up campaigning efforts

August 31, 2002|By David Nitkin and Tim Craig | David Nitkin and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The sometimes moribund race for Maryland governor picked up yesterday, as Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend spent a full day appealing to voters on the eve of Labor Day weekend and the start of a more vigorous campaign season.

Townsend, the Democratic lieutenant governor, received the long-anticipated endorsement of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who praised her ability to solve Maryland's budget problems even as he accused Gov. Parris N. Glendening of excluding Townsend from important fiscal decisions during the past eight years.

"My endorsement of people is not automatic," said Schaefer at a morning rally at Glen Burnie Town Center. "Kathleen has earned my support."

Glendening assigned Townsend responsibility for problem-plagued agencies such as juvenile justice, but never backed her with sufficient money, Schaefer said. "She made the most of a bad situation," he said, adding later, "I can tell you, she was never consulted on the budget."

Republican Ehrlich rode a bus to rallies in Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne's and Talbot counties.

He steered clear of discussing issues - except to propose a summit on streamlining regulations to prevent runoff of manure and other contaminants into the Chesapeake Bay - but instead gave supporters an overview of his campaign strategy. He noted that he has caught Townsend in polls and is erasing her once formidable fund-raising advantage.

"We won the first half, or as the lieutenant governor might say, we scored a lot of footballs," the former Princeton gridiron captain told 75 supporters at the Denton Volunteer Fire Hall. "However, the second half is going to be difficult."

If Labor Day is the gubernatorial campaign's half time, then each campaign is giving itself locker room pep talks, with both convinced momentum is on their side as they enter the final nine weeks before the Nov. 5 general election.

Ehrlich crowed about finance reports filed this week that showed him raising five times as much as Townsend during a 19-day period this month.

Because of that - and his rise in the polls - Ehrlich told the supporters to brace for negative attacks.

"The lady who ran Al Gore's campaign is coming in," Ehrlich said, referring Donna Brazile, the former Gore aide who has agreed to assist the Townsend campaign.

Townsend supporters said the benefit from several new hires - notably manager Karen White - is beginning to pay off. A campaign that seemed to be listing earlier this month has righted itself, they said.

At the same time, her criticisms of Ehrlich are sharpening. The lieutenant governor's latest mailing devotes two pages to Ehrlich's congressional votes and one page to her vision.

"She was as good as I've ever seen her," Schaefer said, after listening to Townsend speak at Leisure World, a sprawling Montgomery County retirement community.

Asked why she wanted to serve as governor during a time of shrinking revenues that will precipitate painful cuts, Townsend said the alternative - Ehrlich as governor - was an unacceptable option.

"Better me, who cares about these values, than someone who voted for a $270 billion cut in Medicare," she said.

Townsend spoke about the difficult budget choices facing the next governor, who must fill a gap of about $1 billion between revenues and expenditures in the 2004 budget year. Schaefer and retired Adm. Charles R. Larson, her running mate, said they would help her - subtly addressing questions about Townsend's leadership capabilities that have dogged her campaign.

"I'm asked the question many times, `Can she do it?' " Schaefer said. "No. Not one person can solve the state's problems. But she can lead a team that will do it."

Larson spoke about managing a $5.5 billion naval fleet budget during times of cutbacks from Washington, and said that Townsend's inclusive leadership style matched his own. "The fact that she's a nice human being sometimes obscures the fact that she is a good manager and a good leader," he said.

For Ehrlich, yesterday was a day for alleviating concerns from some on the Eastern Shore - where voters tend to lean Republican - that he was taking the area for granted.

He said he needs 65 percent of the Shore vote to win, but told supporters that this will be one of his last trips across the Bay Bridge. He will instead spend time in the vote-rich Washington suburbs where he is not well known.

"Our time must be used productively," Ehrlich said. "As Congress comes back [next week], you are not going to see me a whole lot."

At the fire hall, the voters gathered said they were prepared to work on Ehrlich's behalf even if he isn't visible.

"I think people over here are looking for someone with common sense and he will get lots and lots of votes across party lines here," said Patti Smith, 49, a Republican who is a retired teacher.

Pat Kenton, 63, a Democrat, was an undecided voter at the rally. She said many Democrats want to vote for Ehrlich because there "is a lot of distrust" toward Townsend. But Ehrlich, she says, has to start talking about the issues.

At the Double T Diner in Pasadena, Townsend likewise failed to persuade several patrons to support her during a lunch visit.

"I admire her family," said John Keyes, 67, a retired Westinghouse employee from Howard County. "But she's too liberal."

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