O'Malley, Duncan tactics diverge

April 29, 2006|By ANDREW A. GREEN | ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTER

The two leading Democratic candidates for governor were in the same room at the same time yesterday, but they made clear they are running very different races.

At a candidates forum sponsored by the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association in Annapolis, Mayor Martin O'Malley, who has consistently led in the polls, promoted the success of Baltimore under his watch and trained his sights on Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who he said has left the state adrift.

About his fellow Democrat, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, he said he wouldn't utter an unkind word.

"Both of us have run big governments, both of us are executives, and both of us would be far more capable of carrying the state forward than Governor Ehrlich," O'Malley said.

Duncan, on the other hand, attacked the mayor as all style and no substance, someone who has failed at his goals to reduce violent crime in the city and ignored the welfare of school children in favor of a power struggle with the governor.

"You heard him say it: His only message is `Bob Ehrlich is bad, Martin O'Malley is good, vote for Martin O'Malley,'" Duncan said. "His campaign doesn't have one original idea. That doesn't cut it. We deserve better. ... The voters deserve a real choice in this election, and that's why I'm running."

The forum, held as part of the press association's annual meeting, was not a true debate. O'Malley appeared first, giving a short speech and answering questions, followed by Duncan.

The Montgomery executive sat in the back row and watched while O'Malley talked. The only exchange they had was on the subject of debating.

"Doug, we will have debates," O'Malley said while answering a question about his strategy to focus his campaign on the general election instead of the primary.

"When?" Duncan shot back.

"Closer to Election Day," the mayor replied.

"Why not now? I'm here," Duncan said.

The Associated Press had attempted to get O'Malley and Duncan together on stage for yesterday's event, but the O'Malley campaign declined, e-mails between the campaigns and event organizers indicate.

For much of the forum, the candidates stuck to the familiar themes of their stump speeches.

O'Malley pointed to billions in investment in the city, a turnaround of its decades-long population decline, higher high school graduation rates and better reading scores from elementary school pupils.

Duncan sought to convince the reporters and editors in the room that his jurisdiction -- although one of the richest in the country -- has its share of problems, too. Increasing gang activity, immigration, and decaying urban areas have posed significant challenges, which he said he has overcome.

But they also spoke about their ambitions, their reasons for running now and the legacy of the Democrats' historic loss in the 2002 election.

O'Malley insisted that he is not seeking the governor's mansion as a mere steppingstone for a run for national office.

"I often find people overestimate my ambition and underestimate my commitment," O'Malley said. "I would have had a much easier run 3 1/2 years ago, but I couldn't have looked myself in the mirror knowing that the turnaround we've started had not yet taken root."

Duncan has at times faced pressure from party insiders to drop out and cede the nomination to O'Malley, lest a tough primary sap the Democratic nominee's strength and financial resources and leave him weakened against Ehrlich. But Duncan said a vigorous debate between the two Democratic candidates for governor is just what their party needs.

"This is going to be a tough race," Duncan promised.

"We tried the coronation approach in 2002," he said, referring to the race that featured former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as the largely uncontested Democratic nominee. "It didn't work."

andy.green@baltsun.com

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