Departure shifts O'Malley's focus

Duncan exit spurs mayor to reach out

Maryland Votes 2006

June 24, 2006|By DOUG DONOVAN | DOUG DONOVAN,SUN REPORTER

Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday that the departure of his only Democratic opponent for governor requires him to lead his party by unifying it against Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

O'Malley said yesterday that he is reaching out to allies of Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan to say he welcomes their support - regardless of Duncan's harsh criticism of the mayor over the past nine months.

Duncan dropped out of the race Thursday because of his struggle with depression and announced his support for O'Malley and his running mate, Del. Anthony G. Brown of Prince George's County.

"This is a weighty responsibility," O'Malley said. "Anthony and I now have the responsibility of bringing people together and being the leaders of this party and moving us forward."

And the Maryland Democratic Party wasted no time in responding yesterday when it posted a video on its Web site that picks apart each line in Ehrlich's recent television commercial, including the governor's claim that he showed leadership during the BGE electric rate crisis - the defining issue of the political season.

An O'Malley lawsuit seeking a better plan for consumers prompted the General Assembly to return for a special session. Ehrlich, who had earlier called himself a "neutral arbiter" in talks with BGE, vetoed the legislature's plan, and the Assembly overturned the veto yesterday.

The video, called "Governor Ehrlich - the MisLeader," ends with the same message as a recent O'Malley commercial: "The special interests already have their governor. We need one of our own."

"I definitely think the party is going to be unified," said Derek Walker, executive director of the party.

O'Malley said he is grateful for Duncan's endorsement and that his campaign is shifting into a general-election mode that began yesterday with calls to elected officials and party leaders who have either endorsed Duncan or remained uncommitted.

Among those have been Duncan backers, such as U.S. Reps. Albert R. Wynn and Chris Van Hollen, and uncommitted officials such as Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.

Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who backed Duncan, would not say if he would endorse O'Malley.

"I'm still in mourning," he said of Duncan's departure. "Individuals will make their own decision on what they will do."

Wynn, who endorsed Duncan, was more definitive.

"Without question, O'Malley is going to be the standard bearer for the party," Wynn said. "I will be pleased to support him 100 percent. We're unified behind O'Malley now."

Ehrlich campaign officials said Democratic party unity in a state where Republicans are vastly outnumbered will not diminish Ehrlich's chances.

"Doug ran a solid campaign built on ideas and proposals rather than relying on cheap political grandstanding and a self-absorbed attitude of indifference to the issues facing Marylanders," said Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party. "Governor Ehrlich is governor because he cares about Marylanders, while Martin O'Malley is running because he cares about himself."

Both Duncan and Ehrlich had launched similar attacks against the mayor - who consistently had led both rivals in polls.

The mayor said he has not taken personally any of Duncan's attacks, which have included accusing the O'Malley administration of falsifying crime statistics to make the city appear safer and of doing little to improve the city's public schools.

"I don't think there's been any of that kind of damage done," O'Malley said.

Political observers said O'Malley's campaign style of largely ignoring Duncan will help him win over the county executive's supporters.

"That makes it a lot easier to heal wounds," said Donald F. Norris, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "If you win, you really have to be graceful and generous because the last thing you want to do is alienate them and have them close their checkbooks."

Norris said Duncan's exit will allow O'Malley to raise more money and focus his energy solely on Ehrlich.

Aides to the mayor said Duncan's departure probably saved the campaign at least $1 million. As of January, Ehrlich's campaign had $8.4 million to O'Malley's $4.2 million.

Campaign aides said O'Malley could save money primarily by not having to combat any Duncan television ads before the Sept. 12 primary. The county executive spent $325,000 in May airing commercials throughout Baltimore that criticized O'Malley's record. O'Malley followed suit with at least $210,000 in commercials in the same market.

"We will not have to fight two battles simultaneously, namely primary and general elections," said O'Malley.

But how much O'Malley spends will depend on what Ehrlich does. The governor is spending at least $130,000 to currently air commercials in the Baltimore market. The TV spending is taking place far earlier than in past elections, television sources said.

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