Ehrlich doesn't want to be seen as `politician making promises'

Maryland Votes 2006

November 04, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

When Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. says he's running on his record, he's not kidding.

Any voters who listened to the governor's stump speeches would be able to recite what he calls his policy successes over the past four years, from grappling with budget deficits to working toward fishing limits for menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay.

But they would be left with little idea of what he plans to do for the next four. He has established no platform, made almost no campaign promises and is, perhaps, just about the only candidate in America whose Web site doesn't include a link labeled with some variation of the word "issues."

Ehrlich said recently that the topic had been well-discussed within his campaign, and that some of his top advisers were pushing for him to talk more about what he would do in the future, but he vetoed the idea. Doing so, he said, isn't his style.

"We had that discussion, but I was fearful that it would be viewed negatively, that it would be viewed as a politician making promises," he said. "You don't have a series of `promise, promise, promise.' ... I wanted to stay away from that because it doesn't reflect my personality, and as you know, if it doesn't reflect my personality, we don't do it."

His opponent, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, has, if anything, gone to the opposite extreme. His stump speech includes a 10-point plan for moving Maryland forward, and his Web site includes position papers on education, health care and utility regulation.

O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney said the mayor has been specific about his plans to lower health-care costs, fight sprawl, reduce traffic and hold down college tuition costs. The governor's silence on his plans must mean people won't like what he would do with a second term, Kearney said.

"He would raise more taxes, keep raising college tuition, raise more government spending, turn government over to special interests and bicker his way into failure on the only issue he seems to care about - slot machine gambling - for another four years," Kearney said.

Ehrlich said shortly after he formally announced his re-election bid that as the incumbent, he wouldn't be campaigning in the traditional sense, and he has stuck to it.

Even in the final days of the race, as O'Malley is touring counties by bus and attending rallies around the state with top Democratic officials, Ehrlich is appearing at events that more often than not are billed as official government business, though they often have political undertones. In general, he has had fewer events of any kind than O'Malley.

"This was going to basically be about the noncampaign," Ehrlich said. "Other than [fundraising] house parties, most of the campaign is about governing."

Ehrlich ran his last race differently. Then, he released a list of "101 Outstanding Ideas for Maryland," some of which he has accomplished, some of which he has not. On the campaign trail, he occasionally talks about how he was forced to go around making promises in 2002 and finds it a relief to be able to point to his record this time.

The governor has occasionally referred to things he will do next year, but they generally amount to mopping up unfinished business from his first term. He has said, for example, that he wants to expand the military retiree tax credit he pushed through last year.

He has sometimes suggested that he will renew his push for slot machine gambling, perhaps the highest-profile failure of his first term. But he has made only oblique references to the issue; the word "slots" almost never passes his lips on the campaign trail.

He does often talk about the challenges that will be posed by the huge relocation of personnel to Maryland through a national realignment of military bases, a population boom that he says will strain housing and threaten the quality of the Chesapeake Bay. But he has not said what he would do about it.

Dan Schnur, a professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley, said it's not unheard-of for a candidate to avoid talking about his vision.

"Generally, candidates who believe they have a strong record to run on talk more about what they've accomplished, and those who aren't as confident in their records tend to talk more about the future," Schnur. "There's no absolute rule one way or another."

Ehrlich has tried to frame the contest as a comparison of his record, which he considers one of accomplishment, with O'Malley's record, which the governor argues is one of failure.

The mayor has not shied away from his record, instead highlighting in speeches and campaign commercials what he says are his successes in turning around difficult urban problems of crime and blight. He points to higher test scores at schools, improved graduation rates and improved efficiency through his CitiStat program.

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