Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bob Ehrlich: 53 Percent In Baltimore County?

That's what I have been told members of Team Ehrlich are privately telling people. Or at least that's what they are saying their internal numbers are showing.

If true, then that's definitely not encouraging news for the Ehrlich campaign, which once expected to come close to if not equal their stunning 61 percent showing in the former governor's native county. Perhaps that explains yesterday's "Democrats for Ehrlich" rally in Dundalk, as well as the campaign's preoccupation in the final hours of the race with a county they should already have in the bag.

It might explain something else I heard today. Ehrlich Political Director Bernie Marczyk has dispatched two of the campaign's paid Baltimore County staffers to saturate the county with lawn signs. The last time I drove across the county, particularly the northern and eastern parts, Ehrlich's blue-and-white lawn signs already seemed well-represented in both residential and commercial areas.  This time, however, Marczyk is insisting that his minions focus on abandoned commercial property, median strips, intersections, and other "no man's land" kinds of areas.

If sticking up last minute yard signs at abandoned gas stations and such other overgrown locations is Team Ehrlich's best strategy for nailing down Baltimore County, it is in big trouble. I still think a decent, 55-57 percent win for Ehrlich is possible. It may be enough to benefit candidates for local office. Whether it will be large enough to help overcome huge O'Malley wins in Prince George's and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City remains to be seen.

Ken Holt's “Caravan for Change” Hits The Road

As I post this message, a fleet of approximately 50 dump trucks and other industrial vehicles – all festooned with Holt campaign materials – is circling the Baltimore beltway.

The "Caravan for Change" set out from the White Marsh Mall, where trucks gathered in front of what used to be a Boscov’s.

The Caravan’s starting point – vacant retail space in one of our largest local malls – symbolizes the economic challenges Baltimore County presently faces,” Holt explained. “The importance of growing the local economy and attracting new jobs has been the central message of my campaign. The Caravan will broaden awareness of my campaign, while reminding voters that a growing economy means an increased demand for industrial vehicles like these, and more career opportunities for everyone.” 

Here are a few pictures taken before the Caravan departed. On the road, I hear it is a rather impressive sight. Let me know if you see it.



Saturday, October 30, 2010

11th Hour Campaign Developments...

Two things worth commenting on in the governor’s race today.

First, the Baltimore Sun endorsed Governor O’Malley. I am sure Republicans across the state are feigning shock upon learning that news. After all, the Sun’s 2002 and 2006 endorsements of (respectively) Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Martin O’Malley were mere anti-Ehrlich partisan polemics.

But, while the Sun’s decision didn’t surprise me, the substance and tone of this endorsement did.

I found it thoughtful, well-argued, and even-keeled. Even people who disagree with the Sun’s conclusions cannot accuse the paper of knee-jerk partisan rationale based on a fair reading. The Sun actually does something that few would ever have imagined possible, especially in light of Ehrlich’s stormy history with the paper: It says a few nice things about him.

Andy Green, the Sun’s editorial page editor, covered both Ehrlich and O’Malley in Annapolis. He is uniquely positioned to comment on the strengths and failing of both men. It is clear that he applied that knowledge in a manner intended to render what he believed to be a fair, intellectually-honest assessment.

Second, Bob Ehrlich scheduled a GOTV rally today in Dundalk. The Washington Post’s John Wagner reported that fewer than 100 people attended the event, where speakers included controversial Ehrlich political consultant Julius “Bobby Ehrlich is a Nazi” Henson and nonagenarian ex-Governor Marvin Mandel.

I have been critical of Team Ehrlich’s over-reliance on past campaign strategies, and the Dundalk rally is yet another example of this phenomenon. Every Ehrlich campaign dating back to 1994 has had some sort of closing event in Dundalk, so obviously they "needed" to have one there this time. Few doubt that Ehrlich will do quite well there, as well as in Baltimore County as a whole, so I question the rally’s necessity.

Hopefully the campaign’s GOTV strategy also factors in Howard and Frederick counties – counties they also need to win big which have shifted demographically compared to 2002.  That’s where I’d advise them to spend much of the next 50-plus hours or so.

Similarly, Ehrlich wheeled out former Governor Mandel in 2002, and is apparently content to do it again this year. I respect Governor Mandel as a statesman as well as Maryland's most effective governor in my lifetime (criminal justice issues notwithstanding). But, his endorsement at a rally in Dundalk isn’t going to change any minds or inspire people to vote. When they think about Mandel, people wonder "Is he still alive?"- not "Who does he support for governor?"

Plus, that narrow podium looked a little dangerous. I wouldn’t want him to teeter off and break a hip or something.

New O'Malley Ad: "Only One"

Both campaigns have launched their closing TV ads for the campaign. O'Malley has two, and Ehrlich has one. I've chosen to focus on one of O'Malley's ads - "Only One" - because I think it is representative of the overall theme that has guided the campaign.

Team O'Malley has clearly wanted to make this a race between two de facto incumbents, depriving Ehrlich of his ability to run as a change candidate in a change election year. In this new ad, the phrase "Two Governors" is the first thing viewers see. This cleverly hammers home the conclusion that Team O'Malley wants people to draw: You may want change, but neither of these candidates represents change. In other words, they continue to frame the race as a choice between the current and the previous status quo. In a state as solidly Democratic and incumbent-friendly as Maryland, the incumbent Democratic governor surely benefits.

Campaigns are won by the side that sets the terms of the debate. In my view, Team O'Malley - by relentlessly pushing a revisionist view of Ehrlich's record and, in the process, equalizing their records as tax-and-spend governors - succeeded in winning the message game.

In my view, the quality of the campaign waged by Team Ehrlich contributed to O'Malley's success. But, I will have more to say about that next week.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What Does "74 Percent" Mean?

If you’re a voter in Baltimore County, then perhaps you have noticed those “74 Percent” signs going up everywhere. I first heard about the signs at a political dinner I attended Monday, where one of the wise men of county politics asked me about it, noting that the signs contained the authority line of GOP County Executive candidate Ken Holt. Despite having done some writing projects for Holt here and there, I had no idea what it meant.

To me, “74 Percent” could mean a number of things:

  • The percentage of Baltimore County residents who Kevin Kamenetz has personally insulted or patronized during his 16 years on the County Council;
  • The percentage of Joe Bartenfelder supporters who will be supporting Holt (though that numbers seems a little low);
  • Martin O’Malley’s probability of winning the election (again, a little low, as the New York Times had it at 89 percent the last time I checked);
  • Andy Harris’ unfavorability ratings;
  • The “margin of error” in Team Ehrlich’s most recent internal polling.
I finally had a chance to catch up with Holt personally about it today, and he directed me to this TV spot which began running last night.

In my view this is a pretty effective ad. The swirling numbers and messages are impactful, but what really makes it is the clip of Kamenetz smugly and impatiently lecturing his audience about the impossibility of tax relief in Baltimore County. What he is saying is less offensive than the arrogance he conveys when he says it.

I’m hearing this race is closer than anyone thought it would be, with a lot of voters still undecided. Could Bob Ehrlich lose the governor’s race statewide, but run well enough in Baltimore County to bring Holt and a lot of GOP candidates across the finish line with him?

Stay tuned.

"Hey, Hey, We're The MOBBIES..."

Thanks to whoever it was who nominated me for the Baltimore Sun's MOBBIES award for local bloggers. Someone pointed out to me that my blog was included on the list of nominees a while ago, but I just got formal notification today.

At the risk of sounding cliche, this really is one of those situations in which being nominated really is an honor unto itself. I mean, I just started blogging in August because I needed a venting place. I didn't think that people would be reading it regularly, much less nominating me for an award - at least so quickly. But, I have been blessed with some good material coming out of the 2010 elections.

Voting starts on Tuesday, November 2 and lasts until Friday, November 12. I will post the link for voting purposes when it appears. If you've like what I have written, and want to support a blog that promises to be both cooly analytical and brazenly wiseass in a fair, bipartisan manner, then give me a shout out.

As for who actually nominated me, I have no idea. That said, I am pretty sure it wasn't anyone in the Ehrlich campaign.

Revised Prediction for the MD Governor's Race

For much of the past year, I have stuck with a 51 percent O'Malley, 48 percent Ehrlich scenario as my prediction for the outcome of the governor's race.

But recent polling indicates that O'Malley will win by an even bigger spread. So, I have decided to revise my prediction.

I think O'Malley could win by a margin as big as 10 points. But given the nature of the year, I am going to assume strong GOP turnout on election day will pare his numbers back a little bit. So, I am going with a 54 percent O'Malley, 45 percent Ehrlich model. In other words, O'Malley improves over his 2006 performance, and Ehrlich underperforms, but not by much. Also, I think black voters will comprise 21 percent of the electorate - a drop off from 2008 and 2006, but enough to ensure O'Malley wins by a comfortable margin.

So what are your predictions?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why Are FOIAs Flying Around The Calvert County Commission?

So, I have been overdosing on the governor’s race as of late, and therefore decided to look for something that was a complete change of pace. Fortunately, I had to look no farther than my inbox.

There I found a tale of some allegedly nefarious activities going on in small town Maryland. It specifically involves allegations that local officials and their political allies may be unfairly targeting a prominent local business in Solomons Island.

Owned by P.T. Tiki, Inc., the Tiki Bar is an institution in Calvert County. This laid-back island-style bar packs in thousands of customers when it is open during the summer months. Further, the Tiki Bar has earned a reputation as a good corporate citizen, as well as the kind of fun, family-friendly establishment which is not the kind of place you’d associate with controversy.

So, I was surprised to receive information that a law firm retained by the Tiki Bar’s owner to “investigate the potential of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud concerning government officials.” Specifically, that there is a possibility that certain “conspirators” may be “engaged in nefarious acts” intended to harm the Tiki Bar’s ability to do business.

Indeed I contacted the law firm handling the investigation. According to George S. Robinson, IV, a partner in the firm Robinson|Robinson, FOIA requests related to the investigation have gone out to the entire Calvert County Commission – whose five members are Commissioners Gerald W. Clark, Barbara A. Stinnet, Linda L. Kelly, Susan Shaw, and Wilson H. Parran – as well as every member of the Commission’s staff – including Maureen L. Frederick, Joyce Rulapaugh, Corinne J. Cook, and Terry L. Shannon. Through a phone call, I confirmed that the FOIA requests were indeed sent and received.

“We have reviewed many unfounded complaints filed against the Tiki Bar that we believe were designed to interfere with the business of the Tiki Bar for purposes that have nothing to do with the complaints themselves,” stated Robinson, who also alleged that there was even one instance where a federal law enforcement official “was perceived to be threatened on Federal property” in order to get him to remove himself from the bar’s liquor license.

Robinson says he has interviewed a number of witnesses who are aware of the situation and have provided valuable information. He further stated that his firm is broadening the investigation into other areas of local government.

What’s going on here? From what I hear, the owners of the Tiki Bar have been exemplary members of the community, providing jobs and contributing to many of the local charities. They even have plans to take the business to the next level through an ambitious redevelopment plan. 

However, there appears to be a few members of the community with possible allies on the County Commission that may have their own designs for the property. According to one of the Tiki Bar owners, the number of complaints that are filed against the Tiki Bar “borders on the ludicrous, but coupled with recent discoveries, it appears that there may be something very troubling behind the origination of these complaints. We are not going away because of these baseless complaints, but we are determined to get to the bottom of why they are being filed.”  

Even in the sleepiest communities, small town politics can be fascinating. It’s not every day that all the members of a local legislative body and their staffs receive FOIA requests, so I am going to keep an eye on this to see if it develops into something truly salacious.  Hey, I have to think beyond November 2. At least now I know I will have something else to write about. I look forward to following this story and seeing where this investigation leads.

"Stop Calling, Stop Phoning...I Don't Wanna Talk Anymore..."

Lady Gaga sang, "'Cause I'm out at the club and I'm sipping that bub, and you're not going to reach my telephone." I'm guessing that a lot of Maryland voters this year - myself included - have a new appreciation for Gaga's telephonic frustrations.

As The Sun's Julie Bykowicz reported, the influx of so-called political "robocalls" into Maryland households has emerged as a bipartisan source of irritation.  I can't imagine these calls are effective. Surely most people - unless they happen to be a political junkie like me - hang up after a few seconds.

As for me, I haven't received this many annoying calls from politicians since I worked for Eric Wargotz.

Several weeks ago, I received two robocalls, one each from the opposing sides in a competitive primary election for an open State Senate seat. I'm Facebook friends with both of the candidates, who apparently got my number via Facebook. Unfortunately for them, I do not live in the district they were seeking to represent.

In addition to these robocalls, there's also the scripted call phenomenon. I received two such calls. Each time, the youthful caller read the exact message below:

"Hello this is a brief message from the Maryland Republican Party. The politics as usual in Washington must come to an end. Liberals in Annapolis and Washington refuse to listen to voters, and their reckless spending threatens our country’s future.  Bob Ehrlich, our candidate for governor, and all our Republican candidates up and down the ballot are our best chance to stop politics as usual in Annapolis and Washington. We hope Bob and our Republican team can count on your support this election. This call has been paid for by the MD Republican party and is not authorized by any candidate."

I give these guys credit for moxy, but I didn't find the above message all that compelling. It is a little too, well, vanilla for my taste. What about words or phrases like "change," reform," or "fiscal responsibility"? They don't get into the main reason for the call - drumming up support for Bob Ehrlich and other GOP candidates - until halfway into it. By then, I'm guessing the average caller has hung up and gone back to watching reruns of Matlock.

I guess I can afford to unplug my phone for the next five days. That has worked well enough in helping me dodge my various alma maters who keep bugging me for donations.

So, pols, if you try calling me over the next few days and can't reach me, just assume that I'm unreachable because I left my head and my heart on the dance floor.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Have Tax, Will Travel

Every day, tens of thousands of local commuters like me travel between Baltimore City and County via the Jones Falls Expressway. While Baltimore doesn't have a commuter's tax like other major cities do, it may soon have its own “commuting” tax if, as rumored, the City’s new beverage tax migrates up the JFX.
As you probably remember, last spring Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake proposed a packaging tax of 4 cents per container on sales of water, soft drinks, teas, beer and juice drinks sold inside the City limits. Proponents favored the $11 million in new revenue it was expected to generate for the cash-strapped City.  Opponents such as retailers, bottlers and wholesalers screamed bloody murder.  Specifically, they argued that Baltimore residents may punish local retailers by deciding to venture out to the suburbs to shop for their favorite beverages.
The proposal died on a tie vote, but City Council President Young resurrected it after Councilwoman Helen Holton, the poster girl for legislative ethics, switched her vote from a nay to yea after the proposal was amended to reduce the tax to 2 cents per container.
Where does Baltimore County come into the story?
Sources close to the beverage industry tell me that, during the City’s gyrations over the bill, it was rumored that Jack Young called the redoubtable Chairman of the Baltimore County Council, John “Johnny O” Olszewski. The conversation was rumored to be something along the lines of, “Chairman O, this is President Y. We have a little problem with this beverage tax. It seems our retail establishments are going to get killed unless you County folks adopt a tax of your own. How about it?” The Big O reportedly responded, “That’s a fine idea, but we need to get through our elections first. Call me November 3rd”.
Of course all of this is just rumor. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you!  Indeed, when Councilman Olszewski was asked at the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce candidates’ forum whether he supported or opposed a Baltimore City-style beverage container tax for the County, he failed to give a straight answer.
Someone should ask the Councilman and his fellow Democratic councilmanic candidates, not to mention County Executive nominee Kevin Kamenetz, what the deal is. Will they support a county beverage tax, or won’t they?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Three Point Race?

So, late this afternoon, Henry Fawell, Team Ehrlich's Communications Director, released the following statement:

"Contrary to what The Baltimore Sun and Washington Post want you to believe, this race is extremely close.  A survey commissioned by the Ehrlich campaign shows that as of yesterday, the campaign for governor was statistically tied among those most likely to vote. That’s right: 47 percent of the most likely voters support O’Malley and 44 percent support Bob Ehrlich, with a margin of error of 4 percent."

Bob Ehrlich's pollster of record, Public Opinion Strategies, is a very reputable firm that has polled for Ehrlich ever since his first bid for Congress in 1994. So, assuming they did this particular poll, I wouldn't dismiss such results out of hand just because they do not align with the other three recent polls.

But, I am wondering...if Team Ehrlich really wants to rebut the Post, Sun, and Rasmussen polls (even though the Rasmussen survey is pointedly not mentioned in the statement above), it should produce the entire poll referenced in the statement and not just allude to it. That way, the poll's results and methodologies can be adequately compared against the two polls Team Ehrlich describes as "flawed."

Perhaps this has happened, and Blair Lee will discuss it in his column Friday (that's who I'd give it to were I them). We'll see.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Team Ehrlich Responds to WaPo, Sun Polls

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT: Andy
Barth


October 25, 2010
abarth@bobehrlich.com

________________________________

Flawed Polls Miss Ehrlich's Momentum



* You know political polling is flawed when The (Baltimore) Sun
editorial board throws cold water on its own paper's poll, but that's
 exactly what happened this weekend.

* The Sun wrote of its own flawed poll that it, "wouldn't bet"
on those flawed results materializing. - The Baltimore Sun, October 24,
2010

* The new Washington Post poll is no more reliable. 40 percent
 of those surveyed in today's Post poll do not even describe themselves
 as likely voters, meaning that the results are diluted by individuals
 who are less likely to vote.

* Bob Ehrlich has momentum going into the final week of the
campaign for three reasons:

o Incredible fundraising reports showing that Marylanders helped Bob
Ehrlich nearly double Martin O'Malley in his last fundraising report;

o Strong endorsements from newspapers, fire-fighters, and police
 officers across the state;

o Economic Stagnation as Maryland's unemployment rate ticked up yet
again to 7.5% under Martin O'Malley - double the rate when O'Malley took
office.

###

Authority: Bob Ehrlich for Maryland Committee
 H. Terry Hancock, Treasurer

Early Voting Update

The Maryland State Board of Elections maintains a running list of early voting turnout across Maryland. According to their list, the top five jurisdictions during the first two days of early voting (10/22 and 10/23) were:

Prince George’s County: 9750
Anne Arundel County: 8679
Montgomery County: 8186
Baltimore County: 8042
Baltimore City: 4680

The Prince George’s and Montgomery numbers are good news for Governor O’Malley, while the Anne Arundel and Baltimore County figures should be encouraging to Ehrlich supporters.

Given the Democrats’ vaunted early voting outreach effort, the Baltimore City figures strike me as somewhat underwhelming. 

Rasmussen: 52 Percent O'Malley, 42 Percent Ehrlich

Well, the news keeps getting worse for Team Ehrlich.

Following back to back Baltimore Sun and Washington Post polls showing Governor O’Malley with double-digit leads is the latest Rasmussen Reports poll which gives O’Malley a 52 – 42 advantage over Ehrlich among likely voters. The previous Rasmussen poll had O'Malley ahead by 49 – 41 percent.

Perhaps most significant is the fact that Rasmussen has moved Maryland’s governor’s race from the “Leans Democrat” into the “Solid Democrat” category.

New WaPo Poll: 54 Percent O'Malley, 40 Percent Ehrlich

Another day. Another poll. Another 14 point spread in the governor’s race.

Today the Washington Post released a poll which shows O’Malley leading Ehrlich by a 54-40 margin. That result aligns closely with the Baltimore Sun poll which showed O’Malley leading by 52 – 38 percent.

Now, I don’t believe Ehrlich’s going to lose by 14 points. But I am now thinking an eight point loss is possible, assuming the undecideds break for Ehrlich.

If things end up in the direction where they’re apparently headed, I would not want to be Paul Schurick or Bernie Marczyk on Election Night, especially when Kendel Ehrlich gets done with them, as defenestration is a distinct possibility. But, I’d sure love to be a fly on the wall. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Team Ehrlich Responds to Sun Poll

This is from an email sent out by the campaign this morning about the "flawed" Sun poll...

"This morning The Baltimore Sun published a poll that directly conflicts with all the trend lines in this campaign.  We cannot let a flawed poll deter Marylanders from voting for strong leadership on November 2nd,  Consider this:  A month ago, a Washington Post poll showed Bob Ehrlich down by 11 points. Two weeks ago, a Rasmussen poll showed Bob Ehrlich narrowing Martin O'Malley's lead to 8 points. Just five days ago, a Gonzales poll showed Bob Ehrlich closing the gap yet again to just five points.  After six months of dishonest attack ads from Martin O'Malley, Bob Ehrlich has consistently closed the gap with a concrete plan to get Maryland working again.  Bob takes clear momentum in to the final days of this campaign."

I have two reactions.

First, you can't really take polls with disparate methodologies and use them to glean evidence of "trend lines." The only observable trend is that O'Malley seems to be consistently leading.

Second, if things were trending in Ehrlich's direction, their internal polling would have shown it, and they would have released it to Blair Lee or some other friendly media source.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sun Poll: O'Malley 52 Percent, Ehrlich 38 Percent

The Sun's Annie Linskey and Julie Bykowicz just filed a report on the Baltimore Sun poll to be released tomorrow.

Conducted by Opinion Works, the poll has O'Malley leading Ehrlich by 14 points (52 percent to 38 percent). Factoring in undecideds, that roughly translates into a 54 - 44 percent O'Malley win. The margin of error is +/- 3.5 percent.

The new poll has O'Malley winning independents handily, leading 88-4 percent among African Americans, and winning women by 55 percent to 34 percent. Further, it has Ehrlich's favorables/unfavorables tied at 43 percent, and has him winning just 75 percent of the GOP vote.  It's worth remembering that Ehrlich got 93 percent of GOP primary votes in 2002, but only 76 percent in his primary win against Brian Murphy in September.

The poll also makes what seems to be realistic assumptions about turnout. It assumed black voters will comprise 19 percent of the electorate (down from 25 percent in 2008), and that GOP voters will be 30 percent of the electorate (up from 27 percent four years ago).

Is Ehrlich toast? Given the dynamics at work this year, I am not prepared to say that. But given the results of this poll and what I am hearing in terms of early voting turnout, things sure ain't looking good. I may have to revise my earlier prediction.

Mr. Schurick and Mr. Marczyk...call your office.

Day One of Early Voting: PG and Montgomery Lead the State

The Gazette newspapers have reported that, on day one of early voting, the population-rich, Democratic strongholds of Prince George's and Montgomery counties led the state.

According to the Gazette:

"In Prince George's, 1,482 votes were cast by noon, the most in the state, according to Daneen Banks, deputy elections administrator for the county's Board of Elections.

"In Montgomery County, 1,154 people voted by noon, with the highest turnout, 310, recorded at a polling site in Silver Spring, said Marjorie Roher, a spokeswoman for Montgomery's elections board. The first day of early voting before the primary saw at total of 1,218 votes cast in Montgomery."

Minimally, this offers strong evidence that the strong GOTV effort Democratic officials have promised has in fact materialized.

Bob Ehrlich, Candidate For...U. S. Senate?

Team Ehrlich has posted a You Tube video in which Bob Ehrlich, looking and sounding every bit like a candidate for the United States Senate, criticizes at length the Obama healthcare law while also promising to "fix" it if elected.

Philosophically, I agree with every point he makes. But, I still have two questions: Why is the national healthcare law relevant to the gubernatorial race, and how can a governor singlehandedly "fix" a national law?

I suppose I know the answer to the first question. Voters are angry this year. One of the things they're angry about is President Obama and Congressional Democrats' obsession with passing a national healthcare plan many people did not want and few understood at the apparent expense of fixing the economy. Governor O'Malley has praised the healthcare law, which is why Team Ehrlich is trying to link him to it.

Polling done during the course of the year indicates that support for the Obamacare law is somewhat stronger in Maryland than it is nationally. A Rasmussen Poll conducted in September asked the following question, and yielded the following result:

"A proposal has been made to repeal the health care bill and stop it from going into effect. Do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose a proposal to repeal the health care bill?"    

    40% Strongly favor
    10% Somewhat favor
      8% Somewhat oppose
    37% Strongly oppose
      6% Not sure

Note that the number of people who "strongly favor" and "strongly oppose" repealing the law are roughly the same. Given this parity in numbers, it seems that Obamacare isn't quite the political flashpoint here that it is elsewhere.

Still, elections are won by the campaign that gets its supporters to show up, and this is an attempt by Team Ehrlich to leverage voters' general discontent towards all incumbents to its own benefit. It's the latest maneuver in the campaign's "OK, that didn't work, so let's try this" strategy. We will soon see if it works for them.

Friday, October 22, 2010

O'Malley: $1.6 Million Raised, $1.1 Million Cash On Hand

In September, I blogged about how both Team Ehrlich and Team O'Malley have, at different times, chosen to release their campaign finance report numbers on a Friday in order to diminish the attention they got from the media.

This time, it was Team O'Malley's turn. They reported $1.6 million raised since the last report closed just prior to Labor Day, with $1.1 million cash on hand. Earlier this week, Bob Ehrlich reported raising $2.8 million, with $1.7 million cash on hand.

I have to say that Ehrlich's fundraising team - Elaine Pevenstein, Dick Hug, and John Reith - has done a pretty impressive job, despite getting such a late start. In the last three campaign reports, they reported raised nearly $6.7 million compared to $5.2 million for Team O'Malley, which started 2010 with a big financial advantage. I had figured the Ehrlich campaign would pull in about $5 million altogether for the race because of the bad economy and the difficulty of raising money against an incumbent governor with a long memory.

One point to mention: The O'Malley campaign reportedly completed all its media ad buys for the balance of the campaign before the end of the reporting period. The Ehrlich campaign had not. So, assuming the Ehrlich campaign has since done so, both side enter the beginning of the early voting period with about the same amount of money in the bank.

Now, let's see how they spend it.

"12 Days To Make A Difference"

This fundraising appeal was released by the Ehrlich campaign last night. It's pretty standard stuff. But, I have one question: if they really did have $1.7 million in the bank going into the final two weeks of the election, shouldn't their priority be spending the money they've got and not raising more?
 
__________________________________________________
 
Dear Friend, 
 
I’d like to tell you that winning elections has nothing to do with money. But the reality is that it’s just not true. I am being attacked relentlessly by Martin O’Malley’s campaign and by out-of-state interest groups that want to shut you and me out of government altogether.
 
For four years Martin O’Malley has said and done anything he could to strengthen his one-party monopoly’s grip on government at expense of families and small businesses.  And during the final days of this campaign he will stop at nothing to smear me and the ideals you and I stand for.

So I urgently need your help again. Anything you can give, $10, $20, $50 or $100, will go towards fighting their deceitful attacks and getting my message of Strong Leadership for Maryland out. Believe me, I know the amount of trust and faith you are putting in me when you make a contribution to my campaign. I do not take it for granted.
 
Help me capitalize on our newfound momentum.  We’ve just earned endorsements from the National Federation of Independent Business, The Gazette Newspapers, and many more organizations that want new leadership in government. I see the energy and enthusiasm of supporters like you every day on the campaign trail. It is incredible to witness. 

Your contribution will be used in the most efficient and effective way possible to get my message out through TV, radio, mail and on-the-ground grassroots strategy. This is the key to victory so, if you can, make a contribution to my campaign at this crucial time. We have just 12 days left and need your help more than ever.

I was honored to see The Gazette write on Wednesday, “Ehrlich is the best candidate to take on Maryland's unavoidable financial problems, all while maintaining quality schools, investing in vital transportation improvements, protecting basic human and health services and restoring a can-do business climate.”
 
Help me put the brakes on out of control spending, government overreach, and a nationalized healthcare system that would kill jobs and increase your health care costs.  Incumbent O’Malley doesn’t like to talk about how he supports socialized medicine, but if he gets back into office, you can be sure he will be fighting to protect government – not families and entrepreneurs.

As always, thanks for your support.
 
Sincerely,



 
Bob Ehrlich
 
PS. We have just 12 days left and the requests for signs and bumper stickers keep pouring in.  With your contribution of $25 we can print 25 more lawn signs and let Ehrlich supporters’ voices be heard.  Marylanders are hurting, the economy is on the wrong track, we need a return to job creation and fiscal sanity.  Please make a contribution today.

Details of Ehrlich/Kane Early Voting Tour Announced

Here is the schedule as announced by the campaign:
 
Saturday October 23rd
 
Bob Ehrlich’s Schedule:
 
Allegany County 8:30 am
Downtown Cumberland Mall, Baltimore and Liberty Street Cumberland, MD 21502
 
Washington County 10:00 am
Cochran’s Auction House, 7704 Mapleville Road Boonsboro, MD 21713
 
Frederick County  11:30 am
The Hampton Inn, 1565 Opossumtown Pike, Frederick, MD 21702
 
Carroll County 1:30 pm
Carroll County Agriculture Center Horse Ring, 706 Agriculture Center Drive, Westminster 21157
 
Baltimore County 3:00 pm
Bloomsbury Community Center, 106 Bloomsbury Avenue Catonsville, MD 21228- In Parking lot on north side of building
 
Harford County 4:30 pm
North Hickory Avenue, across from Bel Air Library in Parking Lot- Library located at 100 East Pennsylvania Avenue Bel Air, MD 21014
 
Anne Arundel County 6:30 pm
Back Parking Lot, 45 McKinsey Road, Severna Park, MD 21146
 
Mary Kane’s Schedule:
 
Howard County 2:00 pm
Howard County GOP Headquarters 9054 Chevrolet Drive, Ellicott City, MD 21042
 
Prince George’s County 4:00 pm
16701 Melford Blvd. Suite 100 Bowie, MD 20715

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Patuxent Newspapers Back Bob

In the newspaper endorsements contest, Bob Ehrlich jumps ahead 3-2, with Patuxent Newspapers throwing its support behind him.

I find the newspaper’s contention that Ehrlich “showed more of a willingness to hold the line on spending” than his opponent curious, especially given the pre-election spending spree the Ehrlich Administration embarked on during its last year in office. But, I suppose I get their broader point.

Excerpts from the endorsement appear below:

“Ultimately, though, there are good reasons to support a candidate. Cutting through the campaign noise, the race comes down to the question of who would best lead the state out of the current financial crisis.

“We believe that leader is Robert Ehrlich.

“In his four years as governor, Ehrlich showed more of a willingness to hold the line on spending than Martin O'Malley has, a willingness that is still necessary in these difficult times.

“In addition, his Republican voice -- a moderate Republican voice -- would be a welcome counter-balance on not only budget matters but in other important challenges facing the state, from managing growth to attracting business.

“As governor, Ehrlich proved that he was willing to work with the Democratic legislature, yet not compromise on critical issues.

“Some would call that gridlock. We call it checks and balances.

“Given the critical fiscal issues ahead, a two-party debate is necessary. And since the legislature isn't going to find a political balance anytime soon, the election of Ehrlich could bring that balance.”

Is There A Proofreader In The House?

It generally isn't a good sign for a campaign when they can't even correctly spell the name of their own candidate.

Last time I checked, it was spelled "Ehrlich." Someone added an extra "I" - as in "idiot" - in the ad below.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Some Morsels of Baltimore County Political Gossip

In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Baltimore County Executive candidate Ken Holt for about 12 years. I worked as a consultant on his unsuccessful bid for Maryland State Senate in 1998, and I have done a few writing/editing projects for him this year. That said, of the three items I report below, he was my source on only the first one. Moreover, I did not discuss this blog posting with him.

That said, I thought it would be a nice change of pace to deviate from the governor’s race for a moment and focus on my other great political love: Baltimore County politics. Over the past few days, three interesting tidbits were brought to my attention.

  • Bob Ehrlich is planning to formally endorse Holt’s candidacy for County Executive tomorrow at a private event. Now, people can debate just how important endorsements are in politics. I would argue, however, that if Ehrlich’s endorsement brings with it any coattails this year, it will be in Baltimore County. Ehrlich is expected to romp in his native county on Election Day, as evidenced by the ubiquitous blue “Ehrlich for Governor” signs that dominate the county’s landscape, and the corresponding absence of green “Re-elect O’Malley/Brown” signs. Regardless of what happens statewide, Baltimore County is Ehrlich country. His margin of victory, and his ability to bring a few local candidates across the line with him, are the only open questions.
  • The Baltimore County chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland has polled in a few county races. In the fifth councilmatic district located on the east side of the county, Holt and his Democratic opponent are running neck and neck. Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, the insult comic of Baltimore County politics, is polling 39 percent to Holt’s 36 percent (Bob Ehrlich and Martin O'Malley are at 47 - 37 percent, respectively). This certainly reflects the aftermath of a contentious Democratic primary between Kamenetz and Joe Bartenfelder.  
  • I heard just today that some of Kamenetz’s east side surrogates are starting to resort to nasty tactics. Specifically, a local official who was one of the few senior Democrats in that area to back Kamenetz over Bartenfelder reportedly threatened a few Dundalk-based county firefighters who offered to work the polls for Holt on Election Day. This official is said to have personally told the men that he would lobby county officials to fire them if they dared not tow the party line. Fearful of losing their jobs, these firefighters complied. I’d love the opportunity to talk to these guys if they would be willing to go on the record so I can elaborate on this story.
That’s the latest on the Baltimore County front. I will post more morsels as I hear them.

Ehrlich Endorsed by The Gazette

The newspaper endorsement matchup in Maryland’s gubernatorial race now stands at 2 – 1, with Bob Ehrlich picking up the endorsement of the Gazette newspapers.

Note that the endorsement says nothing at all about Governor O'Malley. I'm not sure how significant or insignificant that is.

Ehrlich-specific excerpts of the Gazette’s strongly-worded endorsement appear below.

“When considering the work ahead, Maryland will be best served by Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as governor.

“Ehrlich brings his own credentials, and a solid record, to the office. During his first term, he focused on fiscal responsibility, education, the environment, jobs and public safety. 

“Ehrlich opposed increases in sales and income taxes and supported legalization of slot machines to create a revenue stream to support an education-funding plan that he endorsed as a way of bringing equitable financial resources to poorer districts. He opened the first-ever public charter school and invested heavily in community colleges and the state's historically black colleges.

“Ehrlich supported the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act, hailed as ‘the most important pollution-reducing initiative in the state in 20 years’ by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He established a position in his cabinet for people with disabilities, a long-term issue of his.

“Ehrlich wants to re-energize the growth of private sector jobs and explore a bus transit system for the Purple Line, linking Metrorail stations in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. The challenge he will face is working with a legislature dominated by another party, which is a high-wire act. In his first term, there was far too much acrimony in Annapolis.

“Ehrlich is the best candidate to take on Maryland's unavoidable financial problems, all while maintaining quality schools, investing in vital transportation improvements, protecting basic human and health services and restoring a can-do business climate.”

Rudy The G Coming To Town For Ehrlich

Team Ehrlich is bringing in one of its celebrity mainstays – former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani – for a rally in Montgomery County on Sunday, October 24th at High Point Farm.

The campaign brought Giuliani into Montgomery County at a rally late in the campaign in 2002, and has frequently used him as a fundraising draw. Ehrlich originally supported Giuliani in the 2008 presidential primaries.

Bringing Giuliani back is a worthwhile thing to do. Remaining skeptical of Ehrlich’s ability to improve his performance in Montgomery, I would probably suggest that Howard County is the venue where Rudy could deliver the most value so late in the game.  
 

Bob Ehrlich: "I Will"

Bob Ehrlich new campaign ad, "I Will," debuts.

This ad, like most of the others coming out of the Ehrlich camp, is fine, but it doesn't really offer anything that hasn't been said in some form or another before. For a campaign that desperately needs a game-changer, they won't find it with this ad.

Two additional points:

1) I'm not so sure that recycling that particular Ronald Reagan quote is a good idea. The quote Ehrlich uses ("Are you better off now than you were four years ago?") is arguably Reagan's most famous one-liner. Using it therefore evokes memories of him, distracting the viewer from the points Ehrlich is trying to make in this ad. Further, Reagan's campaign had been pushing a specific plan to stimulate the economy at the time Reagan used that line. Bob Ehrlich may have one, but he has not yet clearly articulated it to voters.

2) Team Ehrlich's approach to this campaign has been to ride the national anti-incumbent wave, and referencing the Obama healthcare law here is further evidence of that. Ehrlich is trying to tap voter's anger, no matter what the cause of it is. Only in that narrow context does it makes sense for a gubernatorial candidate to promise to "fix" a national healthcare law over which he would have little personal authority.

With $1.7 million yet to be spent, I'm guessing that Team Ehrlich will launch a few more ads before Election Day. This has evolved into a "OK, let's try this" campaign strategy for them. Let's see if it works.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Prince Is Back in the House

I was pleased to see my friend and fellow mischief-making blogger Joe Steffen aka the "Prince of Darkness" has resurfaced, opining his vlews about alleged attempts by Team Ehrlich to blame him for the Philadelphia homeless busing imbroglio in 2006.

I hope that Steffen's foes in the Ehrlich camp haven't engaged in such a whispering campaign, which would be stupid as well as just plain silly. After Steffen was outed by the Washington Post for discussing already widely disseminated, pre-existing rumors about then-Mayor O'Malley's personal life on a conservative blog, the only person in Ehrlich world willing to even admit he knew Steffen publicly was, well, me.

So, it makes little sense that someone who was politically radioactive, who Paul Schurick called "irrelevant to our world," who could not get people who had pledged their help to even return his calls, would be put in charge of a high risk, harebrained operation which could, and did, blow up in their faces.

Whoever's responsible for floating the rumor about Steffen should grow up and focus on matters at hand. When it comes to meat ax politics, certain people were more successful at it when they weren't using the Internet, and instead relying on old school methods.

Like pink stationery.

The "Rope-A-Dope" Approach To Fundraising

I have been heavy on the boxing analogies lately, so I apologize for resorting to another one – “Rope-A-Dope” – when discussing Team Ehrlich’s impressive, and unexpected, fundraising performance.

The Ehrlich campaign reported raising $2.8 million during the past seven weeks, and reported having $1.77 million in cash on hand going in to the campaign’s final two weeks.

Several signs – the campaign’s absence from radio, the infrequency with which it has unveiled new campaign ads compared to Team O’Malley, and the fact that Ehrlich’s TV ad buys seemed more conservative than O’Malley’s purchases – created the impression that their money might be drying up.

But, in true Rope-A-Dope fashion, Team Ehrlich surprised us by shattering expectations. Strategically speaking, it was an impressive play – probably their best move of the campaign.

I’m interested to see how much O’Malley reports. And, I can’t wait to see how Team Ehrlich spends these resources. As I have stated elsewhere on this blog, while I am skeptical as to their ability to pull off a win, the nature of the year and the volatility of the electorate might still make this a race with a photo finish.  First, Team Ehrlich needs to refine their message, and run with it.

This is why I love politics…every time I reach a point where I think I have seen everything, something comes along to surprise me.

Some Advice for Team Ehrlich...

Numerous sources continue to tell me that Team Ehrlich’s fundraising has hit a brick wall.  I can only assume that today’s news of another poll showing momentum for Martin O’Malley, and the RGA abandoning its planned DC media buy, will only make this situation even more dire.

Amid this bad news, I have a suggestion for the Ehrlich campaign.

Over the past four years, Team Ehrlich’s single biggest expense has been its payroll. As of the last campaign finance report, the campaign had paid out $741,079 in salaries – or 35.26 percent of its total expenditures. Further, as I blogged earlier, many members of Team Ehrlich and their family members are being compensated at a far more generous rate than their counterparts in the O’Malley campaign.

Now, with just two weeks left, Team Ehrlich has an opportunity to give something back to the man who has given so much to them by foregoing their salaries for the balance of the campaign.

The monies could be used to fund a series of last-minute radio ads in Western Maryland, where Ehrlich needs to rack up big numbers, and on WBAL radio, where – ironically – the campaign has had no ad presence.

So what do you say guys? Would you be willing to put those precious campaign dollars towards where they could do the most good?  Is Bob Ehrlich worth the sacrifice? I think so. Don't you?

Gonzales: O'Malley Leading 47 - 42 Percent

As I reported yesterday, Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies came out with its latest poll of the Maryland governor’s race. Gonzales, which had the race at 45 percent for O’Malley and 42 percent Ehrlich in July, now has O’Malley up by 47 – 42 percent, with eight percent undecided.

I found a few things about the poll quite interesting:

  • While the Rasmussen poll had Ehrlich leading independents by a wide margin, the Gonzales poll only has him leading by six points (42 – 36 percent). For Ehrlich to win, he needs to sweep independents by a much bigger margin.
  • Ehrlich is only leading in the Baltimore suburbs by eight percent (49 – 41 percent).
  • As O’Malley’s lead grew by two points, the number of undecideds shrunk by the same amount – clear evidence of modest momentum breaking in O’Malley’s favor.
  • The poll has Ehrlich’s support among Democrats at 17 percent – far less than the 25 percent goal espoused by Team Ehrlich.
For me, however, the most interesting thing about the poll is something which none of the major news outlets have yet noted: Despite his fundraising advantage, saturation advertising, and largely favorable debate coverage, O’Malley has yet to break 50 percent.  Further, the poll has his approval rating at 48 percent - lower than either the Post or Rasmussen poll.

This tells me that, while Ehrlich remains a long-shot candidate, the situation is still fluid enough that an Ehrlich win is not impossible.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Ehrlich Heads into PG County

As the Washington Post recently reported, Team Ehrlich seems to have taken a renewed interest in Prince George's County as far as its campaign strategy is concerned.

So, what's going on here?

Does Ehrlich really think he can improve his vote tally in the most Democratic county in the state? Or, is the purpose of this visit to create enough good will and/or indifference among African American voters so that those who will never vote for a Republican may still choose not to vote at all because they see Ehrlich as non-threatening and O'Malley as uninspiring?

And, how does Julius Henson factor into all of this?

While I believe the GOP should engage in outreach activities towards traditional Democratic constituencies, this is a process that has to extend across multiple election cycles. I am not sure that showing up in black communities in late October will move the needle very far.

If I were advising Ehrlich, I'd tell him to spend as much time as possible in Howard, Frederick, and Carroll counties - all areas he needs to win big, and in which Brian Murphy racked up respectable numbers during the primary.

The "Where Else Are They Going To Go" approach towards courting the GOP base partially doomed Ehrlich's 2006 reelection bid. Simply taking it on faith that GOP and conservative independent voters will vote in droves because, well, it's a GOP year and Martin O'Malley is "that bad" won't work this time either.

Battle Of The Campaign Paychecks

I originally blogged this in September, but in light of the fact that I have since picked up some new readers, I decided to "rerun" this one. Enjoy.....

OK, enough talk about polls, debates, and campaign ads. Let's look at who’s winning the contest everyone cares about: "The Battle of the Campaign Paychecks."

I just looked through the salaries section of the most recent campaign finance reports submitted by both the Ehrlich and O’Malley campaigns. The winner and still champion: Paul Schurick, Bob Ehrlich’s de facto campaign manager. Schurick is raking in more than $15,000 a month – an almost unheard of salary for a campaign manager in a gubernatorial race. His closest rival in the salary race is, as you might expect, O’Malley campaign honcho Tom Russell, who earns about $10,500 a month.

Looking at the salaries paid by both campaigns, a few patterns emerge.

As for Team O’Malley, most staffers seem to be earning around $4000 a month, or less. Exceptions include the governor’s brother, Peter O’Malley ($9500 a month), campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese ($7100 a month), Adam Goers ($6400 a month) and some guy named Curtis Valentine, a “political consultant” who picked up a $4500 check in mid-August.

Regarding Team Ehrlich, many more staffers are drawing princely paychecks than are their counterparts in O’Malley’s camp. Based on my own experience with these folks, this generosity with salaries must be a new phenomenon in Ehrlich world. But I digress.

Aside from Schurick, the most generously paid people in the Ehrlich campaign include fundraiser John Reith (almost $9000 a month), Political Director Bernie Marczyk ($6300 a month), and Communications Director Henry Fawell (he’s making about the same as Marczyk). Hapless campaign spokesman Andy Barth, who was probably already on the air while his boss Fawell was still in diapers, earns about $800 a month less than Fawell.

Another difference I noted is that Team O’Malley is the only campaign which has relatives on the payroll. In addition to tapping donors to pay Peter, they're paying Paul O’Malley a modest campaign salary, too.  

Similarly, Team Ehrlich is the only campaign employing a married couple. Proud Dundalkians Greg and Chris Massoni – frequent first-in-liners at the Ehrlich all-you-can-grab buffet – bring in nearly $12,000 a month combined. Their exact responsibilities remain a bit murky. Once a State House spokesman, the simian-like Greg Massoni now shadows the former governor full-time – Ehrlich’s equivalent of Charlie Young, the presidential "body man" from TV's The West Wing. Gum-snapping Chris Massoni performed secretarial duties for Ehrlich in the governor’s office and at Womble Carlyle, and presumably plays a similar clerical role now.  She will likely continue in this role indefinitely - unless Bravo TV begins casting for "The Real Housewives of Merritt Boulevard."

To study the salaries listed in the most recent reports, click here for O’Malley and here for Ehrlich.

A New Gonzales Poll Hits This Week

I have heard from several well-connected sources – not to mention an anonymous commenter on this blog – that a new Gonzales poll of the governor's race was in the field last week and will be released sometime this week.

Conducted in July, the last Gonzales poll had the race at 45 percent O’Malley, 42 percent Ehrlich with a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.

Will this poll validate the results of other polls showing O’Malley pulling ahead, or has Ehrlich picked up ground in the wake of his impressive performance at the Washington Post debate? Stay tuned.

New Ehrlich, O'Malley Ads Courting Women Debut

The Ehrlich campaign has just released another ad, “We Can Do Better.”

By using precious campaign dollars to target women – a population segment where Martin O'Malley has a strong advantage according to the polls – Team Ehrlich has demonstrated a willingness to take a few risks with this ad. Overall I like it, specifically the fact that the message is being conveyed by “ordinary Marylanders.” I just question whether this has game-changing potential. Everything coming out of the Ehrlich camp has a "let's try this" feel to it. And, I wonder whether or not Team O'Malley's relentless negative ad barrage has not successfully undermined the Ehrlich campaign’s ability to make credible promises when it comes to holding the line on taxes and spending.

Not to be outdone, Team O'Malley launched an ad featuring Senator Mikulski. As I opined elsewhere on this blog, I don't think Mikulski's coattails will be a significant factor in this race.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

WaPo Endorses O'Malley This Time

The Washington Post, which endorsed Governor Ehrlich four years ago amid reports that challenger O'Malley flubbed his appearance before the editorial board, has changed course and endorsed O'Malley this year.

Here are excerpts from the Post's endorsement:

“It was partly on that record of moderation that we endorsed Mr. Ehrlich for reelection four years ago. Our reasoning then was that Mr. O'Malley, despite an impressive record as mayor of Baltimore, had failed to make a persuasive case for toppling a generally proficient incumbent. We also worried that replacing Mr. Ehrlich, the first Republican in a generation to serve as Maryland's chief executive, would restore one-party Democratic rule to Annapolis, along with its corrupting tendencies.

“Now, in their rematch, we remain worried about one-party rule -- specifically, that a state lacking a genuine contest of ideas and outlooks is unlikely to be well governed in the long term. But while Mr. O'Malley can be flippant and occasionally disingenuous, he remains at heart a wonkish, disciplined, good-government Democrat."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Judging Them By The Slogans They Use...

In judging the state of a political campaign, I think that you can learn a lot from the quality and the number of slogans each side uses.

Team O’Malley has largely stuck with “Moving Maryland Forward,” which O’Malley repeated in both of the recent debates. As slogans go, it is fine if not particularly inspiring. I think that critics could seize upon its vagueness as further evidence of a campaign which is using clichés to conceal bad results.

Team Ehrlich, on the other hand, seems to have gone through three different slogans to date.

The first one, “More Jobs, Lower Taxes,” appears on some of the campaign’s signs. For me, the slogan is a bit too “well, duh” obvious. I mean, what else is a challenger going to say in a time of recession? Further, the slogan begs the question as to how Ehrlich plans to achieve both these goals. Team Ehrlich’s lack of specificity on the “More Jobs” component, and Team O’Malley’s attacks on Ehrlich’s “Lower Taxes” record, mitigated its usefulness.

BTW, my friend Joe Steffen suggested this one should have been "More Jobs, Higher Fees."

The second slogan, “Martin O’Malley’s Making Stuff Up,” was featured prominently in some of the campaign’s TV ads, and in its email claiming victory after Monday’s debate. The slogan was tied largely to the whole DLLR Internet jobs report controversy which Team Ehrlich seized upon. But with the controversy never reaching the Watergate-style dimensions the campaign expected, the slogan was abandoned.

The latest slogan, “Maryland Deserves A Leader -- Not A Politician,” was cited by Ehrlich ("Leaders lead...politicians give you" rhetoric) in the Washington Post debate. The point behind the slogan seems to be turning O’Malley’s reliance on talking points and slick rhetoric, so evident in both recent debates, against him. “We deserve a governor who will tell the truth about Maryland’s economic and fiscal crises,” Henry Fawell wrote in a recent campaign email, “not hide behind clichés and flowery language.”

Of the three slogans proffered by the Ehrlich campaign, I like the last one best. In any event, they should pick one and use it consistently and effectively. Two-and-a-half weeks before Election Day doesn’t leave a lot of time for additional course correction.

So, if you were advising the campaigns, which slogans would YOU suggest to them?

What About The "Mikulski Factor"?

In some of the comments on my blog, and in an at least one op-ed penned by another political observer, the argument has been made that Barbara Mikulski holds the key to Martin O’Malley’s victory.

This argument suggests that O’Malley will be able to leverage Senator Mikulski’s strength in three areas:

1)      Coattails: A longtime mentor and ally of Governor O’Malley, Senator Mikulski has never received below 61 percent in any of her Senate races dating back to 1986. Therefore, all Governor O’Malley has to do is hitch his wagon to her locomotive, and she will pull him across the finish line.
2)      Organization: Senator Mikulski has a strong, seasoned, and experienced grass-roots organization which always seems to deliver for her. Adding this layer of organization to O’Malley’s will bring him additional strength in areas such as poll coverage, GOTV efforts, door-knocking, voter flushing, and other key closing activities.
3)      Money: Despite her apparently unassailability, Senator Mikulski has continued raising and spending campaign money. Because she has the financial muscle to wage a strong campaign both on the airwaves and on the ground, every member of her team therefore benefits.

It’s clear that the O’Malley campaign has factored the Mikulski factor into his campaign plans. That was evident when it chose to hold their kickoff rally in Fells Point, the Baltimore neighborhood where Mikulski’s community activism helped launch her career.

Still, I am skeptical that the Mikulski factor will help Team O’Malley very much for at least two reasons:

1)      Anti-incumbent sentiment: Even someone as formidable as Senator Mikulski is not immune to the anti-incumbent sentiment among voters this year. A recent Washington Post poll had her favorability ratings at 52 percent, down from 64 percent in January 2004. So, while Democrats will likely vote for her, her ability to influence their votes in other races may not be what it once was.
2)      The Snoozer Factor: The same Washington Post poll I just cited shows Mikulski beating her GOP challenger, Dr. Eric Wargotz, by a 61-29 percent margin among likely voters. In other words, people know that Mikulski is going to win handily. If the low turnout seen among Democrats in the primary is any indication, reelecting Mikulski may not be a big enough draw to get Democrats who believe she is going to win anyway to the polls.

Perhaps the Democrats should have leaked news of a phantom poll showing the Mikulski – Wargotz race tightening. Given the dynamics of this year, scaring Mikulski’s supporters into getting out and voting for her would have made sense.

So, while having the state’s senior senator on his side is certainly good news for O’Malley, I doubt it will play a decisive role in the outcome. As incumbents all across the country are realizing this year, if O’Malley wants to win this thing, he will have to do it on his own. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The WaPo Debate: Ehrlich Brings His A-Game

If Monday’s debate between Bob Ehrlich and Martin O’Malley was reminiscent of the legendary fight between Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis, Thursday’s debate at the Washington Post was more Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier – two experienced, evenly-matched contenders pounding the crap out of each other.

Performance-wise, it was a pretty even matchup with a slight edge to Ehrlich, who also benefited from the expectations game coming out of Monday. There was no game-changing moment here, which benefits incumbent O’Malley.

After the WJZ debacle, Ehrlich needed to bring his “A game” to the Washington Post – and he did. Debates can be won with a single clever one-liner, and Ehrlich had several effective zingers throughout the debate.  What’s more, he turned his authenticity back into an asset. Compared to Monday, it was a night and day performance.

One significant criticism of Ehrlich’s performance: He brought up the 2006 Baltimore City schools controversy again – something which few people other than political junkies like me remember. Clearly it is something that bothers him. But, he needs to let it go. Rehashing 2006 is not going to win him any votes. And, it wastes time that could be spent discussing jobs and the economy – the only relevant issues this year.

O’Malley got in a few effective jabs on the issue of taxes. Clearly the Democrats want to equalize Ehrlich and O’Malley on tax/spending issues – something which ultimately benefits O’Malley. I thought O’Malley praising Ehrlich for enacting the “flush tax” was a clever way of reminding voters of who had passed it.

Both candidates accomplished what they needed to accomplish going into the debate.

Ehrlich’s performance will rally his supporters, many of whom have been dispirited by recent unfavorable polls as well as negative news coverage following the Monday debate. The last thing Ehrlich needs is for his supporters to conclude the race is over and not show up at the polls. They need to see a confident and energized candidate.  Monday, they didn’t – but Thursday, they did.

O’Malley’s performance was typically polished and on par with past TV appearances. His objective going into the debate was not to commit any gaffes which Ehrlich could exploit. The biggest criticism one can make of O’Malley is that he perhaps seemed a bit too talking point reliant – something Ehrlich referenced effectively at different points during the debate.

As I have argued in prior blog postings, these debates matter more to Ehrlich than O’Malley, as it is up to Ehrlich to convince voters why they need to fire O’Malley and rehire him. During his performance, I think he hit both arguments intermittently. While I am not sure he sold these arguments, he definitely delivered the game sustaining performance he needed.