Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ehrlich's New Attack Ad Debuts

Ehrlich's newest attack ad, "History," debuted in the Baltimore media market, where it will run for the next few weeks.

I have been pretty positive in my review of Ehrlich's campaign ads to date. But I'm less impressed by this particular ad for several reasons.

First, its tone plays into the whole Ehrlich-O'Malley grudge match angle. The ad conveys a sense of anger that none of the other negative ads have. Its goal seems to be hammering O'Malley personally, rather than driving home the facts and statistics - such as O'Malley's passage of the highest tax increase in state history, and the 200,000 jobs lost in Maryland since he took office - that will move voters. These facts are mentioned, of course, but they almost seem overshadowed by the overarching "O'Malley is a bad guy" theme. While I think it affirms the support of those already planning to vote for Ehrlich, undecided voters will tune it out.

Second, the ad mentions the jobs report "scandal" featured prominently in Ehrlich's previous negative ad. Before, I was skeptical as to whether the jobs report issue is something that will persuade voters to support Ehrlich. Now, I firmly believe it will not. When the previous negative ad debuted, I heard from numerous people who were merely confused by it and what it was talking about. Clearly, the Ehrlich campaign's attempt to turn a fiasco into Whitewater II is not working. For most people, it simply smacks of inside baseball. Instead of talking about the missing jobs report, the Ehrlich campaign should talk about the missing 200,000 jobs themselves.

Third, while the Ehrlich campaign has focused on touting O'Malley's jobs loss record, it has has been less successful in conveying what should be done to grow jobs in Maryland. The campaign seems to be relying on voters to take it on faith that Ehrlich will do a better job because the economy was strong when he was governor. I think that people really do want specific ideas or proposals this year, rather than recriminations or reminders of what happened in the past.

In some respects, Team Ehrlich seems to have fallen into the same trap it did back in 2006, when the campaign ran ads criticizing O'Malley's record on crime and schools while mayor of Baltimore. But crime in the city and the state of Baltimore's schools have been areas of concern for decades, so no one actually blamed O'Malley for personally causing these entrenched, chronic problems. Now, they're blaming O'Malley for the shaky economy during a time of national recession - one which Maryland seemed to be managing better than some other states, if certain statistics are to be believed.

To win, Ehrlich needs to sell two arguments to voters. First, O'Malley is to blame for the state's economic woes. Second,  Bob Ehrlich can do the job better. They are conveying the first argument, but recent polls indicate that they have not yet sold it. And, they have not even begun clearly articulating the second one.

I'm interested to see how Team O'Malley responds to this latest ad.


  1. Richard, Maryland's unemployment rate has historically been lower than the national average, which probably reflects our enormous chunk of Federal jobs due to our proximity to DC. So if that's the case, Maryland really really hasn't done a good (or better) job of retaining private sector jobs than other states. In fact, as a matter of percentage, Maryland hasn't done any better than any other state in retaining private sector jobs.

  2. Hi Anon: That is a very valid point which, unfortunately, doesn't easily lend itself to a sound bite. Or, at least one not as compelling as "unemployment in Maryland is lower than the national average."

    Team Ehrlich needs to effective tie the loss of private sector jobs to O'Malley, and articulate a vision for getting them back. Allowing O'Malley to blame it on the national recession largely lets him off the hook.