Readers respond to the last days of election coverage

Public Editor

November 05, 2006|By Paul Moore | Paul Moore,Public Editor

Last Sunday's editorial-page endorsement for governor and the front-page profiles of gubernatorial candidates Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley marked the start of The Sun's final full week of reporting on the 2006 election campaigns. Later in the week the newspaper published the results of the final Sun polls on the governor and U.S. Senate races and reported on the record number of voters who had applied for absentee ballots.

Now, two days before Election Day, reporters and editors are preparing for an exciting but possibly drawn-out conclusion to the races. And as they have all year, readers have offered a variety of opinions about The Sun's editorials and political coverage.

Few were surprised by the editorial board's Oct. 29 endorsement of O'Malley for governor, but many reacted to that choice in the context of The Washington Post editorial board's having endorsed Ehrlich four days earlier.

From Michael P. DeCicco: "The Sun's endorsement of O'Malley was the culmination of two years of misstatements by this newspaper. The problems associated with one-party domination were one of the reasons that the left-leaning but intellectual Washington Post endorsed Ehrlich. Sadly, this is not so at The Sun."

James Walker said: "Thank you for your intelligent and sober endorsement of O'Malley for governor. After The Washington Post's endorsement, some of my neighbors felt that The Sun might follow The Post's lead. I told them if The Sun endorsed Ehrlich I would walk down our block sans everything except my athletic socks. Thanks for saving me from the embarrassment."

From Mark Mourges: "How can it be that your newspaper can see things so differently than The Washington Post? I think it is because The Sun can't see the forest for the trees. Try to be more objective in the future. It makes for better reading."

In my view, there are fundamental differences between The Sun and The Post that affected the two editorial boards' endorsements of different candidates. The Sun is primarily a Baltimore-region newspaper. Some campaign issues - such as the Public Service Commission/BGE rate increase debate - affect this region more directly than they do areas in Maryland primarily covered by The Post. Also, Ehrlich declined to be interviewed by The Sun's editorial board but did accept The Post's invitation.

But the governor's direct conversations with Sun reporter Andrew A. Green gave readers of Green's Oct. 29 profile of Ehrlich a better understanding of how he thinks and works. Ehrlich offered this candid observation of how his expectations for being governor were affected by his early years as a Maryland delegate: "I made a major miscalculation. I thought I could revisit my days as a delegate. Something was different. I was treated differently."

Green later spoke of the interviews: "As with any politician, Ehrlich sees things his way, but he was also willing to do some introspection. I've been covering the governor for more than two years and I know him pretty well, but without the chance to talk to him in depth, I could not have presented his ideas, traits and attitudes so completely."

Reader R.W. Summerfield agreed: "The article about Gov. Ehrlich was very good because I learned things I did not know about him. I was especially interested in what Ehrlich said about how things had changed for him in Annapolis when he became governor."

Articles in the Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 editions reported on the final Sun-sponsored poll, which showed that the governor's race was at a virtual tie and that Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin had a 6-point lead over Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. Stories about the polls, conducted by the Bethesda-based Potomac Inc., suggested how and why O'Malley's 6-percentage-point advantage in late September had dropped to just 1 point.

Sun reporters identified specific voters who had decided to back Ehrlich because of the governor's recent television ads - clear evidence of the commercials' effectiveness. The article also noted that the final Sun poll was based on the estimate that black voters will constitute 19 percent of the electorate, which reflects previous voting trends.

In comparison, The Washington Post governor's race poll published Oct. 29 was based on an estimated black turnout of 25 percent. The Post poll had O'Malley with a 10-point lead over Ehrlich. Whichever poll's methodology proves most prescient, the pivotal importance of black voter turnout is unmistakable.

Reporting about how the requested 175,000 absentee ballots will affect the outcome of statewide and local races will be a key component of The Sun's continuing election coverage this week. But no matter what happens, I hope this newspaper will not be reporting on any contested political races a week from today.

Paul Moore's column appears Sundays.

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