In mid-September, candidates favor campaign-lite

Campaigns focus on being seen without being mean

On the trail

September 21, 2006|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,sun reporter

The art of campaigning in mid-September requires being seen by as many people as possible without offending a single one of them. So this past weekend we learned these truths about our candidates for public office:

Martin O'Malley loves Irish music.

Bob Ehrlich loves freedom.

Michael Steele loves puppies.

Several candidates also bravely expressed their support for "liberty," "democracy" and "our young men and women fighting in Iraq." Oh, make the bickering stop!

FOR THE RECORD - An article about state politics in the Today section yesterday incorrectly stated that Republicans have controlled the U.S. Senate for the past 12 years. The Democratic Party was in the majority from Jan. 3 to Jan. 20, 2001, and from June 2001 to January 2003. The Sun regrets the error.

Candidates eschewed issues of substance -- the war in Iraq, the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the health of the Chesapeake Bay and education -- in favor of bland platitudes. At this point in the campaign, they seem to be reaching for likablity rather than gravitas.

Coaxed out of retirement -- once again -- O'Malley played a nearly hourlong set with his band, O'Malley's March, at the Baltimore Irish Festival Friday night. Apparently deciding that the mayoral biceps should not be bared during a run for governor, O'Malley left the sleeveless T-shirt at home, instead wearing a blue dress shirt with red tie tucked neatly underneath.

The mayor played one of his own songs, "The Battle for Baltimore," in which he boldly sides with the Baltimoreans fighting off the British in 1814. "And when the bombs of hell come raining down tonight," the mayor sang, cupping his hands around the microphone and providing the boom noises himself, "we'll stand alone for Baltimore and liberty."

O'Malley had announced in March 2005 that he was quitting his band to focus his "creative energies" on Baltimore. But he had trouble kicking the habit. Before playing last year's Irish Festival, O'Malley said, "This will be our last Irish Festival, until the reunion tour kicks in."

Asked why he picked up his green Taylor guitar once more, O'Malley said he wanted to support the city's ethnic festivals and "promote, preserve and respect our diversity." In a swipe at Ehrlich, the mayor added, "We don't believe that multiculturalism is bunk in our city."

An O'Malley aide said the stop was more about fun than politicking, and indeed, O'Malley/Brown signs and bumper stickers were nowhere to be found. But two young women who approached the mayor after his performance didn't want signs anyway. They asked for a copy of the band's CD.

At the 29th annual Essex Day festival Sunday, Ehrlich was joined by his parents and a coterie of volunteers clad in Ehrlich T-shirts. Not as bashful as the mayor about showing some skin, Ehrlich wore a red polo shirt tucked into pleated navy shorts with white sneakers. He needed only a large gas grill, or perhaps a flag to wrap himself in, to complete the Fourth of July suburban dad motif. Though he was joined at the festival by several Democratic politicians -- including Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith -- Ehrlich did not argue issues. But he did note the oppressively political tone of the event, where many people plastered their clothing with candidates' stickers.

"Earlier it was stated that this is not about politics," Ehrlich told the crowd. "Well, actually, it's all about politics. Everybody's wearing the signs. It's democracy. It's all about politics. It's all about freedom and it's all about the people who wear those uniforms to allow us to wear these buttons."

In case there was any doubt of how he feels about America's soldiers, Ehrlich added, "So before you leave here today, wherever you go, thank somebody in a uniform for guaranteeing those freedoms."

Cardin and Ruppersberger similarly expressed their support for freedom, and Essex. "Essex Day was in trouble," said Ruppersberger. "What did we do? We rolled up our sleeves and brought it back again."

Cardin's opponent in the race for a U.S. Senate seat, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, took a walking tour of downtown Ellicott City on Tuesday, popping in on a furniture store, a bakery and a rug shop, where he ran his fingers over the fine Oriental rugs. "These are beautiful. Wow," he said.

At an antiques store, Steele bought two sets of cuff links ($10 each). The employee who helped him, Lisa Emmerling, later said she liked Steele but was going to vote for Cardin because of his record in Congress. But Emmerling quickly added, "I think the lieutenant governor has very good taste in cuff links."

Steele, perhaps alone among the major candidates, was smart enough to hire an ad firm with a sense of humor. His latest ad, already so unconventional it's bought him acres of free publicity, features Steele warning voters that negative ads are on the way, and they may even accuse him of hating puppies.

Steele looks into the camera and says, in mock seriousness, "For the record, I love puppies."

The ad, fast-paced and clever, hits on Steele's campaign theme that he's an outsider who will bring change to Washington. What he doesn't say is that he's a Republican, and the Senate he wants to change has been controlled by Republicans for the last 12 years.

But if he said that, he might offend someone.

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

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