Democratic stars coming

Clintons to visit Maryland to help raise money to battle GOP

Maryland Votes 2006

September 19, 2006|By Doug Donovan and Jennifer Skalka | Doug Donovan and Jennifer Skalka,sun reporters

National Democrats - including Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton - are coming to Maryland to help raise millions of dollars that state party leaders say they need to combat President Bush and the GOP's fundraising prowess in this year's most crucial elections.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, the Democratic nominee for governor, said the fundraising help is essential to maintain a simultaneous television presence in the costly media markets of Washington and Baltimore.

O'Malley began airing his first campaign commercial in the Washington market Sunday evening after running television ads mostly in the Baltimore region all summer. His Republican rival, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., went on the air in Baltimore and Washington last month.

"It's very expensive," O'Malley said. "Now we're in the final stretch. Hopefully my friends will continue to come through, and our base of support will continue to grow. But it is an expensive proposition."

O'Malley said Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold have raised money for the Maryland Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton, a U.S. senator from New York, is scheduled to headline a fundraiser for Maryland Democrats on Monday night in Adelphi.

"President Clinton himself will be here on Oct. 17," O'Malley said.

A spokeswoman for Ehrlich's re-election campaign said the governor was not concerned by the new ad or the money that could help pay for its distribution.

"Welcome to the statewide race," said Shareese N. DeLeaver.

Maryland Republicans have turned their party's top fundraising draw - President Bush - into campaign help. In August, The Sun reported on how Ehrlich's campaign has used more than $470,000 from a federal account created by the state Republican Party to pay for daily operations.

The use of the account is legal, and it allowed the Ehrlich campaign to tap into hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to the Maryland Republican Party in the days leading up to a $1 million May fundraising event that featured the president.

O'Malley also garnered D.C. exposure for himself yesterday by hosting Adrian M. Fenty, the Democratic nominee for mayor of Washington, at Baltimore City Hall. Fenty said he considers O'Malley's administration a model and that he hopes to display the same "hands-on engagement that Mayor O'Malley has shown."

"We're up here to learn new lessons both about how to run the city [of Washington] and how we'll run the mayor's office," Fenty said.

Assistance from marquee Democratic politicians will increase next week when Hillary Clinton comes to Maryland. The visit will mark her first major political stop in the state during the 2006 election and comes as the national buzz builds around the prospect of her presidential bid.

The state party is expecting 200 to 250 people for a reception at The Inn & Conference Center at the University of Maryland. Tickets range from $75 for students to $2,500 for a photo opportunity with Clinton to $5,000 to co-chair the event.

Derek Walker, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said Hillary Clinton first expressed an interest about six months ago in raising money for Maryland Democrats. He dismissed talk of the former first lady as a polarizing figure by pointing to the help that national Republicans, including President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, are providing to the state's GOP nominees - Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.

"The Republicans have much more that they need to hide in the way of people who are coming to support them," Walker said. "We have nothing to hide. Hillary's been a leader in the Senate and as first lady."

State Republican Party Chairman John Kane said support from Hillary Clinton and other key national figures will not change the homogeneity of the Democrats' slate in Maryland.

"They ought to ask her if she wants to run for office - that way we may have some diversity on the Democratic ticket in Maryland," he said, referring to the party's all-male ticket, four of five of whom are white.

But Chuck Todd, editor of The Hotline, said Hillary Clinton will bring much-needed star power to Maryland and could help rally the faithful for the Democratic ticket, which includes Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a mild-mannered, 10-term congressman who is running for U.S. Senate against Steele.

"I think there's a question about whether the base is fired up about Ben Cardin, so that's certainly a box they need to be checking, though I would argue that Bill Clinton would help them more in Maryland than Hillary," Todd said.

The flurry of high-profile visits and spread of ads show how, with seven weeks until the general election, Maryland's races for Senate and governor are picking up momentum.

O'Malley said yesterday that he has been eager to move his advertising beyond Baltimore. "We think the people of the Washington area . ... have not seen as much of the campaign as we would like for them to see," he said.

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