Monday, October 11, 2010

The Great Debate: My Take

Well, I just finished watching the debate. Here are my initial reactions:

  • O’Malley appeared cool and confident. His lofty rhetoric was grounded by a mastery of statistics, which he used effectively to illustrate his case for reelection. Further, he did a crisper, more focused job of dissecting and communicating his view of Bob Ehrlich’s “record” than Bob Ehrlich did.
  • Ehrlich was his usual, free-ranging, conversational self. He once again succumbed to the temptation to address multiple points in one debate period, diluting his overall point. He used statistics at times, but not as systematically or effectively as O’Malley did.
  • O’Malley did a better job of discussing the future than Bob Ehrlich did. In contrast, Ehrlich turned to his past record as governor in order to make the case that he deserved reelection.
  • Ehrlich had a tendency to get bogged down in process. For example he tried to rebut O’Malley’s claim that the Ehrlich Administration left behind a 24,000 backlog of untested DNA samples from violent offenders by explaining how he passed the bill creating the program. He also delved into the legislative origins of the so-called “Geographic Cost of Education Index” when trying to refute claims that he would cut “Thornton” funding. I’m not sure the points he made on either count resonated with the audience watching at home.  
  • Ehrlich once again peppered his answers with terms which may mean very little to at-home viewers (“Thornton,” “re-litigate,” “monopoly,” “ALR,” “DLLR,” “class warfare.”) 
  • Both candidates delved into racially sensitive areas – Ehrlich with his reference to blacks being arrested for questionable reasons during O’Malley’s tenure as mayor of Baltimore, and O’Malley chiding Ehrlich for downplaying the achievements of “children of color.” Clearly both candidates understand the role that black turnout will play in this election.
  • While Ehrlich appeared more comfortable speaking to the TV cameras than he did in the past, O’Malley appeared naturally at ease doing it – although, during his closing statement, I thought I saw his hand shaking a little.
  • Ehrlich’s decision to launch into a defense of Second Amendment rights when the topic of crime came up was curious. Could he possibly be feeling the need to shore up support among pro-gun voters? If that is the case, that does not bode well for his prospects, as he should have them already.
  • Knowing Ehrlich, him calling O’Malley “Gov” probably was not meant to be insulting. But, I am not sure it came across that way.  
The bottom line: To win, Bob Ehrlich needs to sell the case that: 1) Governor O’Malley’s record warrants his defeat; and 2) Bob Ehrlich is the right man to lead the state through this challenging time. Ehrlich got in occasional jabs on taxes and a few other issues, but scored no body blows or knockout punches. In other words, Ehrlich failed to do what he needed to. For that reason, O’Malley won the debate.


  1. Richard,

    Couple of questions:

    1. Why would Team Ehrlich not speak to the press after the event? O'Malley staff did an excellent job of spinning the debate, the Sun destroyed Ehrlich in their articles, especially Z's column.

    2. Where were Ehrlich's third party validators like Kittleman? O'Malley had Mikulski and Cummings to speak to the press.

    3. Is Bob preparing for these debates? He seems to make the same mistakes over and over. Head in hands, scrunching his face, talking over the moderator, hands moving a mile a minute, scowling at the camera.

    I think you were a bit generous to Ehrlich. At times he was pretty good, but the more O'Malley pressed him, the less coherant he became. He seemed desperate at the end to fit in talking points that weren't touched upon. It was as if he was seeing the debate slipping away and he was powerless to stop it.

    Why would Ehrlich do another when he is so clearly overmatched? Is it because he is looking for the Hail Mary to bail his campaign out? Is he looking for free tv and news time?


  2. Hi Anon: My experience with Ehrlich is that he's so confident in his debating abilities that he often refuses preparation. In effect, he "wings" it. I am guessing the extent of his preparation was someone giving him stats and begging him to use them.

    As for him not talking to the press, I have never known Ehrlich to pass up a chance to speak to a gaggle of reporters. He likely knew it didn't go well and didn't want to give interviews because he was rattled.

    I agree Ehrlich's performance was uneven at best. And, I am waiting for someone to bring up the gaffe no one has yet reported: Ehrlich accusing O'Malley of "beating kids."


  3. How convenient that this writer doesn't mention O'Malley's "New Americans" gaffe? Biased much? O'Malley's pandering to illegal immigrants will be his undoing if he is not careful. It's a sensitive issue(with the majority wanting people to immigrate here legally), and now is not the time for O'Malley to display far-left arrogance towards the issue. That mistake may very well be his undoing. If Ehrlich is smart he will seize the opportunity to hammer O'Malley on this.

  4. Anon @ 10/12 @7:52:

    I don't think either candidate committed an obvious, damaging gaffe last night. But, supporters of each are trying to market various moments of last night's debate as such.

    I have seen references to the "New Americans" comment on Facebook, as well as the fact that O'Malley looked at his watch. Similarly, O'Malley fans have cited Ehrlich's O'Malley "beats kids" comment, and his confusion over the coin toss incident.

    As for the "New Americans" comment, I interpreted that as the governor pandering to Hispanic voters. You're right...Team Ehrlich could leverage it to fire up anti-illegal immigrant sentiment among the GOP base. We'll see if they do. If so, they better hurry.

  5. The smartest thing Bob did in 2002 was stop the bleeding from debates, he didnt fare well against KKT and never debated again. This allowed his performance to fade into memory.

    WHy doesn't O'Malley do the same? O'Malley is going for a kill shot, he must want to bury Ehrlich, not just beat him. His willingness to engage in so many debates when he has a significant lead according to Rasmussan and all other polls may be reckless. However after three debates, it appears O'Malley simly doesnt respect Ehrlich's preperation or intellect.

    However, Ehrlich is simply not a good, polished debater, so the risk to O'Malley is slim. He would do well to get away from these forums, especially in the DC metro area where O'malley's polish will play well and Bobby's arbutus charm will fail to win converts.

    Time is ticking on Ehrlich, does he have the experience in his camp to right this ship? Who will be the go to guy down the stretch? What happens to his political career after another loss?

  6. If Ehrlich loses by a respectable margin, I think he goes away for a while, but that his political career is not necessarily over. I think he bides his time and waits for one of the U. S. Senate seats to open up. He'd be the front-runner simply because there really isn't anyone else on the landscape.

    Obviously, it would be a tough, uphill battle. But, if Ehrlich doesn't build a new team with some new blood, the task becomes impossible rather than simply difficult.

  7. To clarify: When I say "front-runner," I mean for the GOP nomination.

  8. He seems very stubborn. Like a football coach who used to win with the run and insists he can win with the run again despite allindications that he can not. RJC, does he have the capacity to change this late in the race? Who on his staff has ever won a State wide race?

    I underestimated how much the last race shook his confidence. He seems to be runnning to get vindication; his insistence on sticking with the same advisors and 06 campaign themes are an idication that he truly believes he was beaten by forces outside of everyones control, the anti GOP tidal wave.

    That said, he was the ONLY incumbent GOP Guv to lose. He was also beaten by a very seasoned candidate who has a very seasoned and battle tested campaign core. O'Malley, though brought in outside help in his campaign manager and fincance team to supplement his existing strong staff.

    Is this an example of Ehrlich losing or O'Malley winning? When you say front runner for GOP, would the GOP really have the stomach to put him for a third race against O'Malley, who more than likely would have an interest in the seat? Would Ehrlich have a stomach for it? Would he still try to win based on mass arrests and 11 school state takeover? I'll tune in to this bat channel for your response. Great blog, get Joe goin.

  9. O'Malley is debuting ANOTHER ad in Bmore and Washington. Where is Ehrlich's promised response? Is he out of money? This is getting out of hand! Its on his website. WBAL is working harder for BOB than BOB!

  10. Erhlich is an embarrasment. The only person in his campaign more clueless is his space cadet running mate.
    In a strange way he's a lot like Palin. She refused to prepare for her entire camapign.
    It appears Erhlich will suffer the same fate.

  11. Anon @ 10/12 @ 9:27

    Schurick and Marczyk are the only veterans of Bob's 2002 campaign. And, based on what I have heard, they're more the problem than the solution.

    I think you're right about him stubbornly trying to rerun the 06 campaign. He sincerely believes he earned reelection, and that Bush's unpopularity was the only reason he lost. That's nonsense, of course. But unfortunately for Ehrlich, it's a message that the people around him - partially for self-interested reasons - have been reinforcing for four years.

    They really thought they were going to ride the wave this time - that the wave that crushed them in 2006 would benefit them this time. It's only now dawning on them that it won't be enough.

    As for your question, I think every reelection campaign is the incumbents to lose. O'Malley seems to be running a highly professional campaign. Barring an indictment or major seismic event on the political landscape, I don't forsee any incumbent Dem governor losing in Maryland.

    If Ehrlich loses, I hope that - this time - he holds the people responsible for talking him into this fiasco, and then running a second consecutive horrible campaign, accountable.

  12. Richard, I enjoy the blog. A couple quick observations:

    Out of all the polls in this race, exactly one has O'Malley - a Democrat incumbent in Maryland - getting more than 50% of the vote.

    In contrast, I counted 11 polls on's database that had O'Malley over 50% as a challenger by this point in 2006.

    50% is not necessarily a magic number anymore, but in this climate with enthusiasm higher on the GOP side and independents breaking for Ehrlich by a wide margin, the O'Malley camp would be wise to hold off on popping the champagne for now.

  13. Its not 50% that is the magic number. It is the number of undecideds remaining. An eight point lead with only ten percent undecided means Ehrlich has to pick up over 80% of those undecideds.

    It is virtually impossible.

  14. Anons @ 12:50 and 13:21:

    Thanks for the great comments.

    With Ehrlich now up in DC and O'Malley rolling out one new ad after another, I'm very interested to see what the next poll show. Presumably Gonzales will weigh in soon.

    Also, if the Rasmussen poll (49 percent O'Malley, 41 percent Ehrlich) is accurate, it shows 8 percent undecided, with the remaining 2 percent going to minor party candidates. Undecideds usually break by a 2/3rd margin for the challenger. That extrapolates into a 51 - 47 victory for O'Malley.

    Another point to keep in mind about Rasmussen: The previous poll had O'Malley leading 50 - 47. So much of O'Malley's lead in the October poll seems atributable to the fact that 6 percent of Ehrlich's supporters moved away from him and into the undecided category. So, that's not entirely bad news for Ehrlich in that they're still in play and haven't swung over to O'Malley.

    I'm sticking with my prediction: 51 percent O'Malley, 48 percent Ehrlich.

  15. 51-48 is very reasonable. I just have a problem with the conventional wisdom right now, which in my view has O'Malley coasting to victory.

    This is based largely on the findings of 2 polls - WaPo and Ras - the latter of which, as you noted above, actually showed O'Malley's support trending DOWN slightly from 50 to 49 percent.

  16. Hi 12:50:

    It's also interesting to note that the WaPo poll and the Rasmussen poll showed two different things. The WaPo poll showed a movement of voters to O'Malley. The Rasmussen poll showed a movement from Ehrlich to undecideds. No one in the media really highlighted that difference when reported both polls.

    I suspect the Ras poll is more accurate. But, I guess we'll know for sure in exactly three weeks.

  17. Going back to 2006, including the election, Ehrlich has never been able to get beyond 47%. The fact that two different models have him in the low 40's (similar to the internal polls of both campaigns) signals a huge problem for the former Guv. He is barely above his base.

    No one should ever pop champagne this early; O'Malley certainly has not, he is engaging, and preparing, for debates, he is releasing new radio ads (Jim Smith) and new tv ads. I also believe the Democratic party is working hard for election day (won't use homeless out of towners) and Mikulski is running a full campaign to turn out her voters who will most certainly be O'Malley voters.

    This race is far from over, 20 days in fact. However, finding positives for Ehrlich is hard:
    voter registration disadvantage, fundraising disadvantage, no power of incumbancy, a tax and spend 4 years as Governor, confidence sapping polls being released each week, poor debate performance, no President or ex President stumping, inexperienced campaign team. . .but he does have anti-incumbent momentum, which is tempered by his very recent record of failure.

    It may be 3 as Richard predicts, it may be 8 as as the polls predict, or it may be 12-no matter the margin, O'Malley gets sworn in because Bob is still running a 2006 race.

  18. Richard, good stuff man.

    I'm having a difficult time believing that pollsters can accurately predict turnout this year, which seems to be much, much different than in past. One example: WaPo tagged Afr-Am turnout at 25% (2008 levels) - that ain't happening this year. Rasmussen has 22%.

    Also, even though I put a lot of trust in Rasmussen, one explanation for the drastic change in poll numbers could be that O'M had the TV airwaves to himself the first half of September. I am curious what you think of that as a partial explanation for the recent polling. O'M was able to tag Ehrlich with better, more effective negative ads (BGE, evil lobbyist, fees, etc.) with no response. Ehrlich's response now is to say that negative ads are bad, which of course doesn't dispute information laid out in the ads.

    Also, a general comment - as a matter of policy, I have an easier time dealing with fee increases than I do with writing the General Fund another blank check. Fees are targeted revenue streams (vehicle registration fee increases = 123 new transportation projects; flush tax = helps the Bay) while the O'M tax increase to solve the budget deficit has resulted in a $1.6b budget deficit (same as 2007).

  19. Policy is for after you win, politics gets you in a position to win. On the policy, Government needs a revenue stream, call it fees or taxes it comes from citizens. O'M tax increase netted 600 million, that helped keep the deficit in check and a AAA bond rating. Ehrlich's budget grew 9 billion, he spent every penny, which is why he raised fees and the property tax. Now to the politics that are causing Ehrlich to tank.

    Ehrlich may be able to explain away his multiple fees. . .but in politics if you are explaining you are losing. Each candidate gets limited air time to make his case, Ehrlich is doing so much explaining, he hasn't made his case.

    Ehrlich has been stuck explaining he's not a lobbyist, he didnt raise taxes, fees aren't taxes, I'm not really down 11, I'm not down 8, I'm not really unable to raise money, I don't really trail 3-1 in fundraising, I really can pay for a sales tax cut, despite the appearances, I didn't lose the debate-listen closely, I won it on substance!

    Also on taxes, Ehrlich is flat out caught in a lie on the property tax. His argument is I didnt sign it into law, the board of public works enacted it. Fine, but he is one of three votes on that board and voted for the increase. And more importanttly, for election purposes, he is stuck explaining, which equals losing.

  20. These "debates" only serve to solidify the already entrenched positions of likely voters. The result is that the two extremes of the right and the left will vote and make decisions for the inert middle. I found that Ehrlich was rude, spoke to the lowest common denominator and outright lied. I'll just be glad when it's over.