O'Malley, Duncan break early on 2006 campaign

Democrats: The mayor of Baltimore and the Montgomery County executive travel the state before their expected gubernatorial campaigns.

July 04, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The next election for Maryland governor is two years away, but you'd never know it by the travel schedules of the two leading Democrats interested in unseating Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

As the City Council was finalizing Baltimore's budget one night last month, Mayor Martin O'Malley was winging off to Garrett County to make a speech. In May, he made three appearances in Montgomery County in two weeks.

The Washington-area politician viewed as O'Malley's chief rival for the Democratic nomination - Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan - has also been on the move. Last month, he made four visits to Prince George's County, three to Baltimore and two to the Eastern Shore.

"It's never too early to run for office," said Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party. "Of all the resources in campaigns, time is the most precious. You can never find enough. Election Day is a drop-dead day. You can't move it."

Neither O'Malley nor Duncan has formally declared his intention to run for governor. Both say they travel a lot because Democratic clubs around Maryland want to hear from them - as two high-profile state leaders, not necessarily as potential gubernatorial candidates.

"For as long as I've been at this, I've been doing party events," O'Malley said. "Sometimes we underestimate in the city how interested in Baltimore people are."

O'Malley's brother and campaign manager, Peter O'Malley, said the mayor is a highly sought-after speaker.

"He's the most popular Democrat in the state and also the most dynamic speaker in the state, and they want to see him," Peter O'Malley said. "We don't seek out these invitations. They're looking to sell tickets, and Martin's a real draw."

Duncan spokesman David S. Weaver said the executive has been responding to a flood of invitations from Democrats eager for their party to regain the top job in Annapolis.

"These Democratic clubs, they're hungry for somebody to come talk to them about how to take back the State House, how to change the direction the state's going," Weaver said.

Many also want to hear from Duncan because he has been an outspoken opponent of slots, Weaver said. Ehrlich wants to bring slots to Maryland, and O'Malley has said he is not opposed to doing so.

Testing the waters

But Duncan acknowledged that he is testing the waters for a possible run as he travels around Maryland. "I am getting around the state, talking to people to find out what interest is out there," he said.

O'Malley and Duncan considered running for governor in 2002, before stepping aside for former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. They've been campaigning ever since.

Political scientists chalk up the early start to several factors: the strength of the incumbent governor; the credibility of O'Malley and Duncan as candidates; and the angst of a Democratic majority tossed out of the governor's mansion for the first time in a generation.

"I think it's perfectly understandable," said John Bambacus, a former Frostburg mayor and Republican state senator who teaches political science at Frostburg State University. "You have two very well-qualified, very credible, potential primary opponents who are interested in taking the governorship away from a Republican. That's a formidable task.

"You have the power of an incumbent governor who appears to be doing fairly well in the polls. Any day somebody picks up a newspaper, there's going to be some article about what the governor's doing. O'Malley and Duncan don't have that, statewide anyway. They're going to get covered in The Sun and in The Washington Post, but they're not going to get covered up here."

Republicans' view

GOP officials have their take on the peripatetic politicians.

"If you really look at it, these eager jaunts around the state may actually help Republicans when the rest of state gets to see what the Maryland Democratic Party has to offer," said Deborah Martinez, spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party.

As they travel around the state, Duncan and O'Malley are finding out how their standard stump speeches play off their home turf.

O'Malley often notes that average home values in the city have doubled to about $120,000. In Baltimore, the line gets applause. In Montgomery County, it gets laughs.

"You're going to have trouble finding a parking place for [$120,000] in some places in Montgomery County," said County Councilman Tom Perez, who heard O'Malley speak June 1 in Cabin John. "It got people chuckling."

2 1/2 pages of events

Asked about Duncan's recent travel, his office released a 2 1/2 -page list of Maryland events - 60 of them, from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore - that he has attended outside his county since last summer. Included were fish fries, church services, women's club luncheons, a picnic in Southern Maryland in September, and a gala fund-raiser in Baltimore last week for presidential hopeful John Kerry.

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