Early advantage seen for O'Malley

Being first to enter race may help, some say

September 22, 2005|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,Sun reporter

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's decision to make an early formal entrance into the race for governor could give him a slight advantage over his expected Democratic primary rival, though political experts say it may only be short term.

O'Malley's declaration - planned for Wednesday at Patterson Park - seems to have surprised Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who is expected to battle O'Malley for the nomination to take on Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2006.

But mention of the announcement, which would have come earlier this month if not for Hurricane Katrina, elicited only a smile and a shrug from Ehrlich on a recent visit to Baltimore.

"He's been running for a long time," said the governor, who has not formally declared his intention to seek re-election. "I welcome him in the race."

Ehrlich said he expects that Duncan and O'Malley would get "their days" of news media attention when they make their formal announcements.

Duncan is expected to announce his candidacy next month, said his campaign manager, Scott Arceneaux.

He said Duncan had not "expected O'Malley to do this," because he said O'Malley perceives himself as the front-runner - a position supported by polls showing the mayor with a significant lead over the county executive.

But Arceneaux said Duncan's active schedule through the summer, including touring all the counties in Maryland, compared with less public campaigning by the mayor, may have spurred O'Malley into announcing early.

Such a move, he said, "is not a tactic taken by a front-runner."

Arceneaux said voters will not remember who declared first in such a long campaign. He also said that Duncan follows his own timetable and that "no one has talked to Doug and asked him to get out of this race or to not run."

"All it shows is that you're officially announced," he said. "In five months, you'll be lucky if anyone remembers."

But a representative for O'Malley's campaign said the decision to announce now reflects years of effort to build a statewide network of support.

"Mayor O'Malley is the best candidate to beat Bob Ehrlich, not just because of his wide lead in the polls, but more importantly, because of the mayor's record of leadership and progress," said O'Malley's campaign manager, Jonathan Epstein.

Some political observers say O'Malley could quickly build momentum that could steal some attention from Duncan's announcement next month.

James Gimpel, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, said O'Malley will garner a few extra weeks of intense news media coverage that Duncan might not get.

"Pressure would be on Duncan to announce sooner than he planned," said Gimpel, who has consulted for national Republicans.

Gimpel also said that by removing the speculation, O'Malley's campaign might attract more volunteers and campaign donations from people waiting for one of the candidates to formally declare.

Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor, said O'Malley will also be able to deflect Ehrlich's criticism of the city as campaign rhetoric after the mayor officially declares.

Crenson also said O'Malley's early announcement could attract more on-the-fence financial backers because he may be seen as having a more organized, better-financed effort.

The early announcement, he said, "says I've got my ducks in a row, and I'm ready to take on anybody."

Crenson said Duncan's expected declaration will now appear as if "he's announcing because O'Malley announced, that's he's not in control, that O'Malley is the guy with the initiative."

"There's a bandwagon effect if he declares now," Crenson said. "Because it looks like his campaign has traction, money [and] staff, people may be more inclined to contribute."

Still, some people agree that voters will soon forget who declared first or second.

"I don't think it matters a hill of beans," said former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides. "There's no surprise that either one of them will run."

O'Malley's camp clearly sees an advantage. The mayor was set to declare his campaign even sooner, but Hurricane Katrina spurred O'Malley into steering his efforts into getting city resources to Louisiana.

Baltimore City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said he was told by O'Malley officials that hurricane relief efforts took precedence over original plans to announce earlier this month.

Several people in O'Malley's campaign said he will follow his announcement Wednesday with visits to several counties.

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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