After being hammered for weeks by groups friendly to his Democratic opponent, Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is finally getting some outside help in his bid for governor.
The Baltimore chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police is airing a 60-second radio ad in which the widow of a slain city officer urges voters to support Ehrlich.
Off-duty Baltimore police and firefighters will also be going door to door in the city to distribute 50,000 pieces of pro-Ehrlich literature before Election Day. The city police and fire unions are also planning to run newspaper ads supporting Ehrlich.
"This is more than we have ever come close to doing before in a governor's race," said Gary McLhinney, president of the FOP Lodge 3, representing 5,000 current and retired officers. "We see this as clearly an opportunity to save Baltimore from crime."
The campaign of Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend responded by saying she is also tough on crime. "Townsend has been part of an administration that has been very tough on these matters," said Peter Hamm, a Townsend spokesman. "[A life sentence] has meant life, and cop killers never get parole."
The FOP spot, running on several Baltimore radio stations, comes as Ehrlich and Townsend have been scrambling to outdo one another with endorsements from public safety groups. It also marks the first time that an independent group is using its money to air radio or television ads on Ehrlich's behalf in this campaign.
For weeks, groups supporting Townsend - including labor unions, teachers, environmental groups and gun control advocates - have been underwriting radio and television spots criticizing Ehrlich's voting record in Congress.
But political observers say groups that usually line up behind Republicans have been surprisingly silent this year.
Democrats suspect that Ehrlich has persuaded some traditional Republican allies - such as the National Rifle Association - to remain silent.
"I am assuming he has told them to shut their mouths because he knows that will hurt his quest to erect a moderate image," said David Paulson, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party.
But Republicans are hoping to get a boost from the FOP radio spot.
In the ad, Kim Martin Deachilla - whose husband, Officer William J. "Billy" Martin, was shot and killed in 1989 - says, "I am voting for Bob Ehrlich. Bob believes that violent criminals belong in jail and if a criminal uses a gun to harm someone, they go to jail for a long time."
Deachilla also criticizes the lieutenant governor, who oversees the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention. "I'm fed up with the mismanaged criminal justice system in our state and my tax dollars meant for police and prosecutors being wasted on ineffective pet projects," she says.
Hamm noted that the state chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Professional Firefighters of Maryland have endorsed Townsend.
The city FOP lodge and the Baltimore City Fire Officers Association, Local 964, and Baltimore City Firefighters Union, Local 734, have endorsed Ehrlich. The Maryland Troopers Association has also endorsed Ehrlich.