Race takes to streets, lawns

Campaign signs are big this year -- and numerous


Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. may trail Mayor Martin O'Malley in major polls, but the Republican incumbent could have the early edge on his Democratic rival if campaign placards are any sign of future success.

Ehrlich campaign officials said supporters have planted 25,000 blue-and-red signs throughout the state, ranging in size from small lawn displays to 32-square-foot behemoths that are beginning to dominate many area neighborhoods.

O'Malley aides said about 12,000 of the mayor's green-and-white signs stand sentry along Maryland roads.

Whatever the signs mean, be forewarned: This is just the beginning, said Brian Harlin, owner of GOP Shoppe, a Glen Burnie manufacturer that makes Ehrlich's signs.

"People are complaining now? Just wait. I've never seen it like this," Harlin said. "This is nothing to what's coming. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw 100,000 signs for Ehrlich" by the Nov. 7 election.

So far, by both campaigns' anecdotal assessments, Ehrlich has unveiled bigger signs than the mayor. Perhaps most notable is the 4-foot-by-8-foot Ehrlich sign - a mini-billboard, really - across the street from O'Malley's home in Northeast Baltimore. They dwarf the dozens of smaller O'Malley yard signs along the busy Walther Avenue corridor.

Similarly sized Ehrlich signs are sprouting at intersections throughout the Baltimore area, conveying an image of a campaign on the move.

Harlin said that in his 20 years, he has never seen a greater demand for the larger yard signs, which can range in cost between $15 to $80 apiece, depending on how many are ordered. Unlike small plastic signs, which can be stuck in a lawn in seconds, their bulked-up brethren are mounted on stands constructed of two-by-fours and look as if they take a team of skilled carpenters to erect.

Ehrlich campaign spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver called the placement near the mayor's home a "coincidence," but O'Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese called it "punky."

"The fact that they put a sign up across the street from O'Malley's house is the sign of a desperate campaign," said City Councilman Robert W. Curran, O'Malley's uncle-in-law, whose district includes the mayor's house.

Smaller Ehrlich yard signs ornament nearly all of the yards along the Arbutus street where the governor grew up and where his parents still live, according to neighbor Norman Rust.

"All the way up and down the street there are Ehrlich signs," said Rust, a supporter. "There is one O'Malley sign, down at the bottom of the road. It was the same last time during the last campaign."

Rust said he hopes the result will also mirror the 2002 election.

Abbruzzese said neither size nor numbers matter when it comes to campaign signs.

"We have signs all over the state, including in Arbutus, but the true sign of our support is at the grass-roots level," Abbruzzese said. "Working families across Maryland dealing with soaring energy and health care costs need a real sign that they are going to have a governor on their side again, not politics as usual."

The differences in sizes could be seen as mirroring the "little guy versus big business" contrast that O'Malley has attempted to portray between him and Ehrlich. The governor's aides claim the demand for the largest signs is indicative of zealous supporters like Ida Manna.

Manna has lived on Walther Avenue for 45 years. She allowed the large Ehrlich sign to be mounted on her lawn across from O'Malley's house because she supports Ehrlich.

"The guy rapped on my door and said, `Do you want an Ehrlich sign?'" Manna said. "I didn't expect a sign that big."

Charles Horak, president of Northeaster Signs Inc. in Hampden, said the 4-by-8 signs like those in Manna's yard are the biggest available and that he has produced "a lot of them" this year. But, he said, no more than in previous years.

So do they work? The campaigns believe so.

Larry Gibson is a veteran campaign strategist who is chairman for Stuart O. Simms' attorney general bid.

Gibson said that on his flight back from Africa earlier this month he came up with a new strategy for Simms' campaign: signs. He replaced paid staff with volunteers in large part to buy thousands of signs that read "Simms for Attorney General - Simply the best qualified."

"Do signs matter?" Gibson said. "That's like asking [Roots author] Alex Haley if family matters. [A sign] lets voters know you're serious. It conveys your message - and it's cheaper than electronic media."


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