Bob Ehrlich's second attack ad of the election cycle, "Stalled," was unveiled today.
The ad seeks to exploit the O'Malley Administration's poor handling of the unintentional publication of an internal report providing a sanguine assessment of job losses in Maryland in July. Emails produced as a result of a Public Information Act request reveal a wild, behind-the-scenes scramble by O'Malley Administration officials to pull and bury the report. This whole episode reeks of confusion and deception - not to mention rank amateurism - and the Ehrlich campaign was right to attack.
So, while I generally give the ad high marks, I have a few questions:
1) Will voters regard the episode as a cover up, or a screw up? In the latter instance, then I don't see it causing O'Malley any lasting damage. For me at least, the emails convey ineptness rather than conspiratorial intent. Perhaps that is because I worked in the State House, and witnessed the dynamics of how the pressures of a full-fledged political crisis - in my case, the hiring and firings scandal involving Joe Steffen - can stampede loyal, competent aides towards a rush to making bad decisions. If there was something sinister here, I think the O'Malley Administration is smart enough to have not communicated it via email.
2) Will people view the ad as appropriately opportunistic or simply reactive? If the former, then I still think it is effective. If the latter, then the Ehrlich campaign runs the risk of being perceived as relying on attack ads culled straight from the headlines because it has run out of forward-looking ideas. This year, people want to hear candidates' specific ideas for growing the economy and attracting jobs. In such a climate, overreliance on negative ads may backfire - as may be the case with Kevin Kamenetz, Democratic nominee for Baltimore County Executive. Ehrlich's people could have made the ad stronger by mentioning three specific ideas to unstall Maryland's economy.
To win, Ehrlich's campaign has to convince voters that O'Malley has no plan for growing the economy and attracting new jobs to Maryland - but Bob Ehrlich does. This ad misses an opportunity to pivot from the recent jobs report snafu towards that larger, more compelling point.