O'Malley benefits as voters shift allegiance

Baltimore County

November 10, 2006|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN REPORTER

Omi May figured she lived in a pretty conservative neighborhood.

Despite its large Democratic registration, as this week's election grew near, there were signs galore for Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The east Towson precinct where May votes went overwhelmingly for Ehrlich four years ago - with 59 percent of the voters supporting him. And the green-and-white signs she put up for his Democratic opponent, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, kept disappearing from her yard, until she outsmarted the thieves and taped one to her front door.

But soon after she cast a ballot at the Towson library in the heart of town, she learned that not only had she supported the winner, but that her neighbors had too. Her precinct flip-flopped from four years ago, with O'Malley scoring 55 percent of the vote to Ehrlich's 43 percent.

"I have a bit of bias for Democrats," she said. "I didn't like the attack ads that the Republicans put out either."

Baltimore County - the county where Ehrlich was born and raised and the county he represented in the House of Delegates and the U.S. Congress - was a major battleground in this week's gubernatorial election, a place where O'Malley strategists knew they had to do significantly better than 2002 candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend did. Townsend lost to Ehrlich by 64,000 votes here, nearly the entire margin of his statewide victory.

O'Malley turned that around, picking up so many votes that unofficial results give him about 400 more votes than Ehrlich in Baltimore County. Nearly 50,000 fewer county voters chose Ehrlich in his re-election bid than did four years ago. More than 30 precincts like Precinct 9-11 at the Towson library switched allegiances away from Ehrlich this year, many of them in the Pikesville, Owings Mills and Reisterstown areas.

State Sen. James Brochin, a Democrat who represents May and her neighbors and won re-election this week, said he thinks the party-switching is owed to the vast differences between Townsend and O'Malley.

"It was the weakness of Kathleen's candidacy four years ago, and they didn't feel like there was a viable Democratic choice," he said. "This mayor gave them a very viable Democratic choice, and that's why [the precinct] flipped."

"Bob offered them an alternative four years ago, but Martin appealed to them [this year]. He let them know he'd be a governor that cared about the working class," Brochin said.

Precinct 9-11 is a compact precinct in the heart of the county seat where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by nearly 2-to-1. Bordered by the shops of York Road to the west and well-kept homes of Burke Avenue and Hillen Road to the south, it is made up of a series of tree-lined neighborhoods, some with middle-class single-family homes, others with brick rowhouses and apartment complexes.

Republican Douglas B. Riley, a former two-term County Council member who lost to Brochin this week, said he was surprised to see Ehrlich make such a weak showing in precincts like this one. When he walked these same neighborhoods asking for votes, the topics of conversation were typically illegal immigration and electricity rate increases.

But Riley said in the end the election turned out to be less about what was happening in Maryland than elsewhere. He thinks Ehrlich was punished for being a member of a Republican Party that hasn't wavered from its stance on the war in Iraq. Riley said he thinks that contributed to his own defeat as well. "Clearly there was an unhappiness with the Republicans on the national level that [filtered] down to the local level," he said.

Still, Ehrlich was the only one of 26 incumbent governors who lost their re-election bids this week. Several Republican governors were returned to office in traditionally left-leaning states such as Vermont, Rhode Island and Hawaii.

Even though it is an area filled with registered Democrats, it was an area Riley had done well in during previous elections. "When it comes time to vote, they tend to be moderate, middle-class people, and if you think about it nationwide, the moderate middle-class people are those, among others, who are fed up with the situation in Iraq," he said.

Robert Behr, a semiretired engineer who lives on the other side of the precinct from May, said he voted a straight Democratic ticket this year. "I didn't have that big a problem with Ehrlich," he said. "I normally will vote for Democrats or Republicans or independents. This year, I felt the Democrats needed to take control throughout the country to stop the foolishness."

Down Greenbrier Road from Behr lives Linda Castaldi. The special education teacher doesn't agree with her neighbor. She supported Ehrlich four years ago and wanted him to keep his job.

"The state was in such poor shape financially before he was in office that it was pretty much a no-brainer," she said. "I voted for some Democrats and some Republicans, and I don't think enough people do that."

She said she liked O'Malley when he first became mayor, but she didn't think he followed through on his promises to improve the city. "I think he is charming and knows what to say," she said. "But if he can't handle city schools and the ridiculous state that they're in, I don't think he'll do better being in charge of more schools in the state."

Castaldi is "disappointed" with Ehrlich's defeat, no doubt. But more than anything else, she said, "I'm just glad the signs are down and the commercials will stop. It was annoying - extremely annoying - on both sides."

On Linden Avenue, Irvin Ullman Jr. is another who voted for Ehrlich, though the way the campaign was run left him with a bad taste. "I wish they would have discussed the issues more," he said.

Still, the retired tool and die maker said, he wasn't too surprised with the outcome.

"I believe people wanted a change," Ullman said. "I did not."


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