Candidates step up and step out in final weeks

Campaign Day

October 22, 2006|By Andrew A. Green and John Fritze | Andrew A. Green and John Fritze,Sun reporters

The candidates for governor kicked off the stretch run for next month's election with a hectic day of campaigning yesterday, personally reaching out to hundreds of potential voters in a race that has been dominated to date by a bitter television advertising war.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. held a rally and a fish fry, with some door knocking in between, turning to personal contact with voters. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley crammed his day with public appearances that included making remarks at the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's Race for the Cure and speaking to teachers at an Ocean City conference.

The race for the U.S. Senate took on fresh intensity yesterday, too, as Democrats sought to turn Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele's opposition to abortion into a major issue in the race to replace retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

Major women's groups rallied against Steele yesterday, objecting to his published remarks last week that his opinion on abortion was irrelevant.

To this point, Ehrlich has relied on the power of incumbency to keep him in the news rather than engaging in outright campaigning.

But yesterday, he held a Democrats for Ehrlich rally in Baltimore County and a fish fry for supporters in Prince George's. Those jurisdictions could prove pivotal in the Nov. 7 election. Baltimore County, Ehrlich's home, gave him nearly all of his margin of victory in the 2002 election, but polls have shown the Democratic nominee, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, cutting into his home base.

Prince George's County is usually reliably Democratic - Ehrlich was trounced there last time - but the governor has said he believes he can do better there this time, shaving away votes O'Malley would need for victory.

"We're going to see a lot more events like this over the next couple of weeks," Ehrlich said, standing on a flatbed truck covered in Ehrlich signs at a rally in Dundalk.

"What you see out there, what you're feeling with the signs with the bumper stickers with the debates, it's really happening. We're going to win this race," he said.

The governor's optimism belies his current standing in the polls; he has consistently trailed O'Malley throughout the contest.

About 100 people showed up for the Democrats for Ehrlich rally, though 20 of them work for his administration or his campaign.

The fish fry, which drew about 150 people, doubled as a ceremony to honor several groups that work with youth, such as a Boy Scout troop and a martial arts training facility. Most of those interviewed in the crowds at both rallies said they are registered Democrats, but by and large they weren't swing voters.

Nearly all of them said they voted for Ehrlich in 2002 and never seriously considered voting against him this time.

"I like that he wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, that he never forgot where he came from," said Lois James, 73, a Dundalk Democrat who has volunteered for Ehrlich's campaigns since he was in Congress. "I believe what he says."

Anika Forrest, 33, a network administrator from Upper Marlboro, said she didn't vote for Ehrlich in 2002 but has been won over. "I'm a Democrat, and I'm impressed with what he's done," she said. "I didn't think he'd get the [Inter-County Connector] done. I admit, I was skeptical."

In the Senate race yesterday, the National Organization for Women rallied against Steele, who the group's leader said would set back a woman's right to legal abortion if elected.

Although Steele's opposition to abortion, which he says stems from his Catholic faith, puts him on the opposite side of the majority of Marylanders on a hot-button social issue, the race has focused little on the topic so far. That changed this week when, in an interview with an MSNBC.com reporter, Steele declared his views on abortion "moot."

"What's that got to do with anything?" Steele said in response to a question about Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that decriminalized abortion. "I'm a Senate candidate. My opinion on that is moot."

NOW President Kim Gandy participated in a rally yesterday organized to highlight Steele's comments.

"Maybe Steele slept through ninth-grade civics, but the last time I looked at the Constitution, the Senate has to consent to every federal court nominee, from the Supreme Court on down," Gandy said in a statement. "Michael Steele opposes abortion, which I'm sure is why the National Right to Life Committee is advertising for his campaign."

According to Federal Election Commission records, the National Right to Life Committee is spending more than $72,000 supporting Steele's campaign.

Steele's Democratic opponent, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, gave the keynote address last night at the National Abortion Rights Action League's Pro-Choice America Gala in Rockville.

Cardin said that if elected, his criteria for approving a Supreme Court nominee would include an understanding of the Constitution that is not bound by ideological interests, and a commitment to protecting the rights of women.

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