Townsend ad attacks Ehrlich's record

Spot contrasts candidates on education

Republican says it distorts his votes

September 18, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend launched a new phase in her television advertising campaign yesterday as she began airing her first spot attacking the record of Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The ad contrasts the lieutenant governor's record on education with that of the Baltimore County congressman, highlighting his partisan votes on such issues as cutting college loans and school lunches and eliminating the Department of Education.

"He has tried to portray himself as a moderate," Townsend said yesterday. "When you say you're one thing and your record says you're something else, I think it is my responsibility to make clear that his record doesn't show that."

The 30-second spot in the Baltimore and Washington television markets begins as two polls show that Ehrlich for the first time has a slight edge over Townsend among Maryland voters in the race for governor.

Ehrlich's response

Ehrlich and his campaign staff charged yesterday that Townsend's slip in the polls prompted her to "go negative" and said her ad unfairly distorts his record. He said he voted to cut the Department of Education to send those dollars directly to the states, and the vote to cut school lunches was an effort to replace the program with block grants.

"As the polls have headed south for her, the entire tone of their campaign has changed," Ehrlich said. "She's going all negative, and they've stopped selling their candidate."

Townsend said the ad had been planned long before the release of any polls. But she also said her campaign has not done an adequate job of focusing on Ehrlich's record. "The polls show the race has tightened, and I think it's now the right time to show people what his record has been," she said.

`Comparative' ads

While Townsend and her staff insisted on describing the ad as "comparative" rather than "negative," its emphasis on Ehrlich's record marks a shift in her advertising strategy. Until now, her attacks on Ehrlich's record have been made in person during campaign appearances or in literature.

Her previous two television spots include a biographical piece and another showcasing her record and platform on education. The only ads attacking Ehrlich's record had been two radio spots paid for by independent groups - the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, which has endorsed Townsend.

"It's not so much signaling a new phase in the campaign as putting into our advertising what we've been talking about on the stump," said Townsend spokesman Peter Hamm. "There's a clear difference between these two candidates for governor, and we intend to make sure voters are fully educated before they go to the polls."

Other issues that the campaign is expected to spotlight in "comparative" ads include gun control, protecting the environment and abortion rights.

Yesterday's ad replaces the education spot run by Townsend over the past two weeks, and the campaign is expected to continue spending about $150,000 a week on television. But as the Nov. 5 election approaches, the campaign is likely to begin running multiple ads at once and more frequently.

Political observers said they weren't surprised that Townsend had started attacking Ehrlich's record, noting that polls have indicated for weeks that the race has grown closer.

What the polls say

A poll released Monday by WRC-TV4 in Washington found Ehrlich leading 46 percent to 43 percent. The poll of 625 likely voters by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Yesterday, a poll of 823 likely voters by Gonzales/Arscott Research and Communications Inc. of Annapolis found that Ehrlich is ahead of Townsend 47 percent to 46 percent, with 7 percent undecided. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.

While Townsend's name is recognized by 99 percent of voters in the Gonzales/Arscott poll, 39 percent have a favorable impression of her and 35 percent have an unfavorable impression. Ehrlich is known by 91 percent, with 44 percent having a favorable impression and 21 percent unfavorable.

"Her intention is to try to raise his negatives," said Carol Arscott, whose firm conducted the poll. "It will be hard for anyone to convince folks in the Baltimore metropolitan area that Bob is evil because they know him too well.

"They'll have an easier time in the Washington area where he's not as well known and impressions are not as fixed," she said.


Ad attempts to show differences in education stances

Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend began airing the first television advertisement yesterday in which she mentions her opponent, Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The ad -- the third major one in her campaign -- contrasts the candidates on education and will air in the Baltimore and Washington markets.

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