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October 30, 2008

Ehrlich: Definitely not running (right now...)

The former guv spent the afternoon at Towson U. professor Rick Vatz's class, as he has many times before, sporting a new (and actually pretty interesting) lecture about negative advertising, which I'll post about later. But for now, the question everybody's been buzzing about since last Saturday's radio show: Is he or isn't he?

The answer, boring though it may be, is, he's not running at the moment and won't decide anything about 2010 for a long time.

"It's unknowable at this time," he said. "In looking at it, there are two sides of the issue. A  lot of people are encouraging me to do it, whcih is great for the ego and nice to hear. On the other side, I lost with pretty high approval ratings." And, he added, there's not much evidence that Maryland voters are intersted in conservative candidates.

He said he has two things to consider as time goes on: What does his family think, and how does the lay of the land look?

On the family front, is Kendel putting the kibosh on a restoration attempt? Uh, no.

"Kendel Ehrlich has not said that," Bob said. "In fact, it's just the opposite."

As for the other part of the equation, Ehrlich said he would need to engage in "a conversation with the general public about the direction we've seen Annapolis take and whether this is the direction people want to see Annapolis take in the future."

He said the presidential vote in Maryland this year won't tell him much, but a Democratic win in the 1st Congressional district would.

"I don't think that's going to happen, but certainly that would be relevant," Ehrlich said.

In general, don't look for him to jump into the race just to be a standard-bearer for the Maryland GOP.

"People come up to me and say, 'You have to run,'" Ehrlich said. "It's not about running. It's about winning ... and that's what I have to focus on."

Posted by Andy Green at 5:00 PM | | Comments (1)

Will Obama-PLO questions make Cardin's job harder?

Sen. Ben Cardin is making his final surrogate appearance on behalf of Barack Obama tonight, debating the Republican governor of Hawaii at a synagogue in the swing state of Ohio.

Cardin's assignment -- convincing Jewish voters to support Obama -- is growing more challenging, however.

The McCain campaign has stepped up its efforts to try to portray Obama as a friend of terrorists, and is now linking him to the PLO. It is a line of argument that could emperil Obama's support among Jewish voters.

Weeks after 1960s radical William Ayers of the Weather Underground was proclaimed by McCain allies to be an Obama "pal," the campaign is now pushing an association between Obama and Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian scholar who McCain says was once a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, though Khalidi has reportedly denied it.

The McCain campaign is pushing the Los Angeles Times (which, like the Baltimore Sun, is owned by Tribune Co.) to release a videotape of Obama at a dinner with Khalidi in 2003. The dinner was held as Khalidi was leaving Chicago for a job in New York. The tape was given to the paper on grounds that it not be distributed, an agreement the paper agreed to when it produced this article.

Many Jews harbor distrust of Obama, stemming in large part from viral e-mail messages that falsely claim he is a Muslim and does not support Israel.

Cardin, a prominent Jewish leader who has stumped for Obama in Florida and elsewhere, has no hesitatancy about Obama's commitment.

"Senator Obama is a long-time friend to both the Jewish community in this country and to our ally Israel," Cardin said in a release announcing his debate with Gov. Linda Lingle at Park Synagogue Main in Cleveland Heights. "I look forward to discussing with the community why Sen. Obama is the right man at the right point in history to be President of the United States."

The questions from Jewish voters in Ohio, however, could prove challenging.

Posted by David Nitkin at 2:19 PM | | Comments (2)

October 29, 2008

Shameless call for interactivity

Hey Maryland Politics readers: Consider this a shameless call for interactivity. I'd like to know your predictions for some big races. Post a comment that lets us know: a) The winner of the 1st District race, and by what percentage b) The outcome of Question 2, the slots referendum, and by what percentage c) The presidential contest outcome, with popular vote percentages and Electoral College breakdown. Show us how savvy you are.
Posted by David Nitkin at 1:16 PM | | Comments (2)

October 28, 2008

Dem Wars: Peter Strikes Back

Fresh off last night's Democratic Party dinner in which he was given the big snub by party leaders, Comptroller Peter Franchot shot off a letter today to Dem Chairman Michael Cryor that looks designed to inflame the situation. To wit:

...I was troubled to see just how far the leadership of the Maryland Democratic Party has become indebted to the national gambling industry.  Not only were gambling interests major sponsors of this event, but the leadership of our state Party made a conscious decision to silence those who are not beholden to these special interests.  While other statewide elected officials were invited to speak at last night's event, I was intentionally left off the program because some feared I would address a major issue on the ballot this November:  whether to amend Maryland's constitution and legalize slots.  This was petty and below the dignity of the Maryland Democratic Party.

Franchot is attempting to make a career out of being independent of the state Democratic party hierarchy; it certainly didn't support him in his 2006 race, so he may figure he doesn't need it. But as is the case for all those trying to position themselves for 2010, it's hard to know what the landscape is going to look like in a few years. Will being a thorn in Martin O'Malley's side look like a good move or a bad one?


What's interesting about Franchot's letter is that he is, in essence, appealing to a higher authority: Barack Obama. Franchot repeatedly invokes the Democratic nominee's name in the letter and goes on to imply that Maryland's powers-that-be are on the wrong side of the potential new president, nay of history itself, in pushing for gambling. As always, it's an amusing read.
Posted by Andy Green at 1:23 PM | | Comments (0)

Mathias, Republican former senator, backs Obama

Charles McC. Mathias Jr., Maryland’s last Republican U.S. senator, has announced his support for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

“I believe that Obama's inspirational leadership, contemplative nature and well-reasoned, forward-looking policies offer our troubled nation a real opportunity to face and overcome its many challenges at home and abroad,” Mathias writes in an op-ed piece in today’s Washington Post.

“On an array of domestic issues, including health care, education, tax policy, the environment and alternative energy sources, Obama promises a clean break from the recent past and tangible hope for a return to fiscal responsibility, economic security and true environmental stewardship …

“On the international front, his thoughtful and responsible approach to extricating our troops from Iraq, reallocating our finite resources elsewhere in the war on terrorism, and reviving effective use of our diplomatic corps all warrant our support.”

Mathias, who served in Congress from 1961 to 1986, notes his family’s long involvement with the Republican Party, dating to a great-grandfather’s run for the state Senate on the 1860 ticket headed by Abraham Lincoln, and including his own, constituency-defiying support of Barry Goldwater in 1964. And he says he knew Republican nominee John McCain before McCain was elected to the House in 1982.

“For me, the decision on who should be the next president transcends private friendship or political affiliation,” he writes. “My decision is based on the long-range needs of our country and which of these two candidates I feel is better suited to recharge America's economic health, restore its prestige abroad and inspire anew all people who cherish freedom and equality. For me, that person is Barack Obama.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:21 PM | | Comments (1)

There's an "ic" in Ehrlich, but not in Democratic

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is the star of two new 15-second spots for Andy Harris's congressional bid.

The ads mark a shift to the center for Harris, a conservative state senator from Baltimore County facing Democrat Frank Kratovil in the 1st congressional district race. Each features just a head shot of Ehrlich -- who lost his re-election bid in 2006 despite high popularity ratings -- talking directly to the camera about the virtues of Harris. In both spots, Ehrlich calls Harris an "independent voice," part of an effort to appeal to the middle swath of the electorate that Ehrlich tapped to become governor.

But in trying to build Harris's crossover appeal, Ehrlich uses a term that many Democrats find offensive.

"I want to talk to my Democrat and Independent friends about Andy Harris," Ehrlich says in one ad.

In that context, many of Ehrlich's associates probably think of themselves as Democratic friends, not Democrat friends. As trivial as it may seem, that one syllable makes a lot of difference.

President Bush is well-known for perpetuating the use of "Democrat" as an adjective, almost always referring to the Democrat Party and Democrat leaders. But it started long before him.

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has called the shortened term "derisive" and "needling."

"(A)s a matter of simple politeness -- something the Bush family is famously good at -- it's rude to call people by a term that makes them bristle, even a seemingly innocuous one," Marcus wrote in a November 2006 column. "There's also something grating and coarse-sounding about this abbreviated appellation, like saying "Jew" instead of "Jewish." It is, conservative wordsmith William F. Buckley wrote in National Review in 2002, 'offensive to the ear.'"

Harris campaign manager Chris Meekins chuckled at the observation, and said that the campaign had an internal debate over which adjective to use, and came down on the side of Democrat. The thinking, he said, was that all voters are little-d democratic -- as in members of a democracy -- but that the voters Ehrlich and Harris are trying to speak to are Democrats.

As for the offensive connotations of the shortened form, "I haven't heard that," Meekins said. "That never even crossed our mind."

Here's a copy of the spot:

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:12 AM | | Comments (1)

A chill in the air for Franchot

You can bet on Comptroller Peter Franchot making a stink today after being allegedly frozen out of last night's Democratic Party fundraising gala. After working the tables at the Baltimore Hilton, Franchot made an early exit last night. His chief of staff, David Weaver, said the Montgomery County Democrat and "chief fiscal officer" was denied a speaking slot at the annual fundraiser because party leaders didn't want the outspoken slots opponent to muss up the "Maryland: United for Change" theme by bringing up gambling.

Later in the evening, state party chairman Michael Cryor gave a shout-out to elected officials from the podium -- but Franchot's name was met with cold silence from the several hundred donors and pols present. Tough crowd.

Dems spokesman David Paulson adroitly sidestepped questions about Franchot's apparent persona non grata status among his own party, but said the fundraiser was altogether a success. The event raised about $400,000, about a fifth less than it did last year, but that was considered a healthy haul considering most of the donor base has been tapped for cash time and again during the lengthy election campaign that ends next week.

-- Gadi Dechter

Posted by David Nitkin at 8:58 AM | | Comments (1)

If the slots referendum is winning, why take out Franchot?

Every public poll has shown November's slots referendum is likely to succeed, maybe by a wide margin. Why, then, are the pro-slots people bothering to send around a nasty press release about anti-slots crusader Comptroller Peter Franchot?

Yesterday evening For Maryland For Our Future, the pro-slots ballot committee, issued a news release questioning whether Franchot is saying the same thing in Western Maryland as he is in the Washington suburbs. The e-mail contains a link to a smoking gun YouTube video showing him telling an audience in Allegany County that he isn't morally opposed to gambling, which the slots folks think is a tad at odds with his comments about the "corrosive coalition," "evil forces," etc. of the gambling industry.

The e-mail reads like oppo reasearch from the closing hours of a nasty and hard-fought campaign, replete with links to previous Franchot quotes, legislative records, etc. It's like the sort of thing you might get from the Frank Kratovil or Andy Harris camps as they duke it out over the next week in a neck-and-neck race. Not like the kind of thing you do if you're up 26 points.

So why rock the boat and make the race personal if you don't have to? That may be because the referendum has always been, to some extent, a proxy war between Franchot and Gov. O'Malley, who helped push the referendum through the legislature last year and whose own political fortunes are tied to the success of the vote. Franchot, on the other hand, can win if he wins and win if he loses -- if slots fails, he's a giant killer, but if it passes, he can still look good in the eyes of his liberal base.

Unless, that is, he comes off looking like an opportunist and a hypocrite. That may be why For Maryland For Our Future (a group with strong O'Malley ties) is going after Franchot for his past record of supporting slots (before Bob Ehrlich came on the scene) and other alleged inconsistencies: "By any standard, Franchot has been misleading Maryland voters.  But he’s also misleading the members of his own anti-slots coalition who have accepted him as the public face of their opposition to Question 2…and Franchot owes them an explanation for his misleading and contradictory statements."

Note that the attack is carefully calibrated to alienate Franchot not just from the state's pro-slots voters but also from those who oppose gambling. If the polls are right, they don't need to do that to win on Nov. 4. But they may see an opportunity to weaken a potential rival while they're at it.

Posted by Andy Green at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)

October 27, 2008

Andy Harris up by four in First District: Daily Kos

The campaign manager for Andy Harris is touting a poll published over the weekend by the liberal Daily Kos as evidence that the momentum in the First Congressional District has returned to the conservative Republican. Harris held a 44-40 lead over Democrat Frank Kratovil, which fell within the 5-point margin of error in the survey of 400 likely voters contacted by Olney-based Research 2000 between Oct. 20 and 23. That’s down from the 15-point advantage Republicans claimed after Harris defeated Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest in a divisive primary earlier this year, but it’s an improvement on the two-point edge that a Democratic poll gave Kratovil earlier this month. “When you look at the direction the campaign is heading, people are embracing our message, and that’s what we’re seeing, even in our internal numbers,” Harris campaign manager Chris Meekins said. A number of possible concern to Harris: While he and Kratovil both were viewed favorably by 45 percent of respondents, he was viewed unfavorably by 44 percent. Kratovil was viewed unfavorably by 33 percent. Daily Kos notes Kratovil’s “geographic advantage” – he lives and works on the Eastern Shore, where more of the district’s population is located – and concludes that he “has a real chance to win this election. "The best numbers for him lie in his favorables, which are superior to Harris'," the web site says. "If a Democrat is likely to win this district anytime soon, it will be Frank Kratovil this year.”
Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:11 PM | | Comments (0)

Ehrlich talks down 2010 prospects

Former Gov. Ehrlich tamped down the Bobby 2010 fever in his radio show on Saturday, saying he doesn't see a lot of potential for someone of his political bent in Maryland these days. Though not ruling anything out, he said two factors would make it difficult for him to mount a comeback: That he lost while enjoying good favorability ratings and that Maryland voters have failed to elect anyone else who shares his philosophy.

I wouldn't take this too seriously just yet.


For one thing, Ehrlich went through a loooong will-he-or-won't-he period before deciding to jump into the 2002 election. In September of 2001 (which, mind you, was about a year farther along in the cycle than we are now), Ehrlich said he was "inclined" to run for governor against the seemingly invincible Kathleen Kennedy Townsend but that he would need to be able to raise $2 million by the end of the year to make it possible. He didn't come all that close.

In January of 2002, The Sun's poll had KKT up 15 points on Ehrlich. (A hypothetical O'Malley-Ehrlch race wasn't even that close.) Throughout the spring, Ehrlich was in the conversation but not officially in the race. He didn't actually delcare his intentions until March 20, 2002, and it wasn't really clear up until the eve of his announcement that he was actually going to run. That leaves him about 18 months in the current cycle to make up his mind.

People close to Ehrlich say he decided to run for governor in 2002 not because he felt a need to be the GOP's standard bearer or to push a particular issue but because he thought he could win. His top advisers did focus groups that spring and, even in leftiest of Mongtomery County, found no great fealty to Townsend. The fact that he was millions behind in fund raising made no difference; he caught up fast.

If Ehrlich were to decide that late in the current election cycle, he'd be even farther behind money-wise than he was then, but he'd have vastly greater advantages in terms of name ID, political network, etc. The question for him would once again be, can I win? And that has a lot to do with factors beyond his control and impossible to know. Will the state's current budget troubles force Gov. O'Malley to push through more tax increases or to cut popular programs? Will the country's current anti-GOP mood reverse itself? Or will O'Malley continue his recent improvements in approval ratings?

Ehrlich showed himself to be a pretty astute tea-leaf-reader one time before, and we know he's willing to take his shot if he sees an opening. For now, though, his interest seems best served by engaging in a lengthy period of public waffling, and that's precisely what he's doing.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:42 AM | | Comments (9)

October 25, 2008

Harris's ads crack the Top 10 list -- for worst in nation

We've written before about the deceptive ads being used by state Sen. Andy Harris in his race for Congress.

You remember: the ones where Harris recycled film clips of supposedly real "people on the street" criticizing incumbent Rep. Wayne Gilchrest AND Democrat Frank Kratovil as being too liberal? It's pretty clear that the "real people" were talking about Gilchrest, and then re-used in the ad attacking Kratovil.

Well, those spots have garnered even more attention.

The Politico web site has compiled a list of the ten worst campaign ads this election cycle, taking nominations from political operatives who have been paying attention.

"We weren’t looking for ads that were unfair, fact-flouting, insensitive or commercials that otherwise injured our civil society," the Politico writers said. "We asked for those that were poorly executed, dopey, misguided or just plain weird."

Coming in at No. 7 (although Politico says the list is in no particular order) is the Harris ad now being dubbed "Recycler."

"This one makes it on sheer laziness," Politico says. "We can accept the occasional campaign volunteer serving as the “man on the street” for his or her candidate. But Harris took it to a new level – recycling the same exact people — and using the same exact footage — to attack both his primary opponent Rep. Wayne Gilchrest and his general election opponent, Frank Kratovil."

Surprisingly, both campaigns are happy with the list. Harris officials like all attention they can get, especially opportunities to link Kratovil with the word "liberal." Kratovil folks are driving home the message that Harris is irresponsible and deceptive.

Posted by David Nitkin at 11:09 AM | | Comments (2)

October 24, 2008

Source to Ambinder: Steele interested in RNC chair

After former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele lost his U.S. Senate bid, there was speculation that he would become chairman of the Republican National Committee.

But Steele broke one of the cardinal rules of seeking higher office. He said he was interested in the spot. That's a no-no. The job went instead to Kentucky native Mike Duncan.

For Steele, maybe that's a good thing. Duncan could end his two-year tenure watching his party lose the White House and sink further into minority status in the House and Senate.

Steele went on to head GOPAC, the Republican recruitment effort once run by Newt Gingrich. But apparently the former Maryland Republican chairman still harbors hopes for the national position.

As first reported on the blog of the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder and picked up today by the Baltimore Sun's Laura Vozzella, sources say Steele is talking up his candidacy, but this time much more quietly.

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:19 PM | | Comments (0)

May we recommend upstairs at Harry Browne's?

Under state law, Maryland's 10 presidential electors "shall meet in the State House in the City of Annapolis" after the popular election to formally vote on the state's choice for president and vice president.

Problem is, the 228-year old State House is closed for renovations and likely will be on December 15, when electors must vote under federal law.

Lest Maryland turn into Florida 2004, state Board of Elections Administrator Linda Lamone asked the attorney general's office for advice on how to negotiate this hurdle.

Assistant Attorney General Sandra B. Brantley, in a Sep. 22 letter, assured Lamone that the electors could meet "in another location in Annapolis," such as the Legislative Services Building.

Brantley said Gov. Martin O'Malley should, "in consultation with legislative leadership," determine the location. Brantley goes on to recommend "that the public be given sufficient notice of the alternative location."

When that happens, we will let you know, because if you have read this far, you might as well show up. Harry Browne's may not be the best idea, we acknowledge. Feel free to include your own suggestions below.

For those interested, here's a primer on the state electoral process.
-- Gadi Dechter

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:31 AM | | Comments (0)

Advantage: Democrats

Democrats are crowing at this year's voter registration statistics in Maryland, which show, for the first time, that there are more than 1 million registered Democrats in the state than Republicans.

 The total number of registered voters has grown to 3.4 million. Of those, 1.94 million are Dems, 926,000 are Republicans, 484,000 say they are not affiliated with a party and the remainder belong to minor parties, such as Conservative, Libertarian and Green.

The jurisdiction with the greatest disparity: Baltimore City, where just about 8 in 10 voters are Democrats, and 9 percent are Republicans.

There are seven counties in Maryland where there are more registered Republicans than Democrats: Allegany, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, Queen Anne's, Talbot and Washington. Of those, there are just two where Republicans are an outright majority of all registered voters: Carroll, where the 54,000 Republicans make up 51 percent of voters; and Garrett, where there are 11,115 registered Republicans, or 61 percent of the voters.

Registration numbers confirm the view that some traditionally swing jurisdictions may be drifting to the left. In Baltimore County, which sent Bob Ehrlich to congress for years and had a Republican county executive as recently as 1994, Democrats outnumber Republicans 298,800 to 131,881. In Howard County, represented by both Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly, there are 84,790 Republicans, and 55,269 Democrats.

It looks to me like the true "swing" jurisdictions in Maryland now -- and perhaps the most interesting places to take the political pulse of the state -- are Harford, Cecil, Calvert and St. Mary's counties.

In those places where the suburbs and rural stretches meet to become exurbs, the two major parties at the moment are closely matched.

Look for votes in those counties to show whether presidential and statewide races are blowouts or close contests. (In Harford, for example, 43 percent of registered voters are Democrats, and 42 percent are Republican; in St. Mary's, the numbers are 43 percent Democrat and 39 percent Republican; the Calvert breakdown is 42 percent Republican, 40 percent Democrat; in Cecil, the figures are 38 percent GOP, 42 percent Democratic.)

In my view, the latest registration numbers call in to question the strategy of Maryland Republican leadership that the party needs to stick to its conservative base, rather than reach out and win over indepdent moderate voters and peel off some Democrats.

 We'll update the numbers today, when final Prince George's County figures are available (yes, more Democrats being added to the rolls).

Posted by David Nitkin at 6:46 AM | | Comments (0)

October 23, 2008

Kratovil, O'Malley and taxes

Our friends over at O'Malleywatch raise an interesting question about the apparently very close 1st Congressional District race. The district was drawn intentionally to make it a safe Republican seat, and Frank Kratovil has generally tried to position himself as a moderate-to-conservative Dem, which is what you'd think you'd have to do to get elected there. (To wit: all the commercials featuring Wayne Gilchrest's endorsement.)

But, Martin Watcher notes, Kratovil hasn't been running away from Gov. O'Malley, whose support for tax increases would, you'd think, make him anathema in a district like the 1st. Not only that, but Kratovil has criticized Harris for voting against the tax hikes. Mr. Watcher writes:

So here is my concern. If Frank Kratovil isn’t afraid to run away from O’Malley’s tax increases in Congressional District 1, are the State Senators that voted against the filibuster that allowed O’Malley’s tax increase to pass, or the State Delegates that sat on their hands while their leadership ran this down our throats behind closed doors going to be worried? Democracy works because voters hold politicians accountable for their actions. Is Maryland going to be a state that approves of their politicians passing huge tax increases on people?


I’m not trying to get involved in Congressional District 1’s race, or the Presidential election because I truly think that the largest impacts are made on a State and local level. I’m just pointing out my shock that Kratovil, who is doing really well in the polls, didn’t run from the O’Malley tax increase and is still doing well in the polls. Does this mean that the narrative has changed and voters approve of the O’Malley tax plan? And how will this effect 2010?

There are a number of indications in the new Post poll that would suggest that Maryland voters aren't nearly so hopped up about the $1.3 or $1.4 billion in tax increases as many people would expect. The Post pegged O'Malley's rating at 53 percent approve and 37 percent disapprove, for a net favorable rating of 16, about the same as the plus-12 it found for him before the tax increases. The Post's last poll had Ehrlich's ratings at 55/42 at this point, a plus-7 rating. Moreover, The Post asked whether voters would vote for Ehrlich or O'Malley today, and the Democratic gov. won by 21 points.

That said, I think you can make a strong argument that much of what's driving voters these days is national, not local. Notice that O'Malley's poll numbers are that good in the same poll that has 31 percent of voters saying Maryland is on the right track and 63 percent saying the wrong one. Those are the worst numbers in the history of The Post's polling on the question. That disconnect makes me think that people are really talking about whether the nation is on the right or wrong track, not about whether particular policies coming out of Annapolis are helping or hurting them.

Moreover, the poll found that 90 percent of people are worried about the state of the nation's economy over the coming years but just 65 percent are worried about their own family's situation. That suggests to me that a lot of voters in Maryland are caught up in an overwhelming concern about what's going on in the world (easy to understand given the state of the economy) that trumps in some way consideration of what's going on immediately around them. The enormity of the financial crisis, the foreclosure crisis, etc. may, for the moment, be weighing more heavily than the question of whether the sales tax is 5 percent or 6 percent.

So, what does that tell us about state races in 2010? Maybe not much. Harris is suffering from the fact that the Republican brand's stock is about as low right now as it's ever been, and he might suffer more on Nov. 4 from turnout inspired by an extraordinary presidential election. (If you don't think that makes a difference, check out the numbers for Donna Edwards vs. Al Wynn in 2004 and 2006.)

Two years from now, maybe we're living under Pax-Obama, all is right with the world and the Democrats will still be riding high. Maybe John McCain has resurrected Republicanism and Maryland's open to a new, maverick-y GOP. Maybe whoever's elected gets creamed by the next Great Depression. Who knows? But I'd bet the mood of the country right now doesn't tell us much about how Maryland voters will be feeling in 2010 about tax increases from 2007.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:14 AM | | Comments (1)

October 22, 2008

O'Malley: The worst governor in America?

The Maryland GOP just sent an attack e-mail against Martin O'Malley that, uncharacteristically, underplayed its case against the Democratic gov. The GOP highlighted a Cato Institute study that found O'Malley to be "one of the worst governors in the country on fiscal issues." No, actually, Cato found him THE worst governor in America on fiscal issues.

The report says: "The lowest-scoring governor, Martin O’Malley of Maryland, spearheaded the passage of a $1.4 billion tax increase in 2007, which was unique in its large size and scope. It increased the corporate tax rate, the top personal income tax rate, the sales tax rate, and the cigarette tax rate. It also expanded the sales tax base and raised taxes on vehicles. This enormous increase will hit Marylanders directly in the pocketbook, and indirectly through slower economic growth over time."

Cato, a libertarian group that takes a dim view of taxes and government spending, gave O'Malley a score of 23, which was seven points lower than his nearest competitor, Rod Blagojevich of Illinois. All of the bottom five are Democrats (though two Republicans do get grades of F in the ranking.) For those keeping score at home, Bob Ehrlich got a gentleman's C in the previous round of Cato rankings, from 2006. His score was a 53.

Posted by Andy Green at 3:15 PM | | Comments (29)

More on the Post poll: No NIMBYs here

The Post published the full results of its recent slots poll, including trends from previous polls where applicable. One of the interesting tid bits buried deep in the numbers is the fact that contrary to what slots opponents have been saying for years, people seem not to mind much the notion of having slots in their own communities.

The Post found that 82 percent of registered voters would support having slots in the county where they live, while 16 percent would oppose it. That's about the same result as in the Post's poll of a year ago. The paper also asked whether voters thought slots would improve or harm the communities where they're located. More people (47 percent) said slots have a negative impact than those who said they have a positive impact (39 percent).

That's not nearly so high a differential as slots opponents would probably like to see. Sending direct mail to people who live near the five proposed slots sites would seem like a no-brainer for the anti-slots camp, but this result would suggest it might not be so effective. Furthermore, if voters don't care if they live near slots, the slippery slope argument -- that soon we'll have slots in every corner bar -- might not be that powerful either.


Posted by Andy Green at 12:29 PM | | Comments (0)

WashPost poll: Slots vote could be blowout

A new Washington Post poll out today indicates that the slots referendum in referendum could be a blowout. A weakening economy appears to have eroded concerns that many voters have harbored against gambling. Voters recognize the social costs of possible addiction and crime, and express doubts that the initiative will generate as much money for the state budget as promised. But the alternative -- deep budget cuts, or higher taxes -- seems to be more distasteful.

The Post poll found that 62 percent of voters surveyed say they will vote for Question 2, which amends the state constitution to allow 15,000 machines at five locations, while 36 percent say they will vote "no."

In what must be disheartening news for opponents, who predictably are being grossly outspent in advertising, the Post reporters say the referendum "drew at least majority support from voters in all regions of the state, in both major political parties, and among all income and education levels. A majority of male and female voters and black and white voters said they would support the plan, which will appear as Question 2."

The survey also found that the approval rating of Gov. Martin O'Malley has an approval rating of 53 percent, higher than in some previous polls but the same as in a similar Post poll a year ago.

Posted by David Nitkin at 8:08 AM | | Comments (3)

Vandalism at McCain supporter home

It's tough being a John McCain supporter in heavily Democratic Prince George's County.

A hotel in Clinton that dared erect a McCain sign on its property received boycott threats and touched off a firestorm of outrage, The Washington Post recently chronicled. And now, the home and property of a McCain supporter in Cheltenham has been vandalized.

The Prince George's County Republican Party has distributed photographs of the damage done to the home of Kenneth Rose, with white spray paint on brick siding and windows of a recreational vehicle, and profanity added to a sign.

Rose, the homeowner, told us that he lives on a major coummuter route in a rural area of the county, and there are not a lot of McCain signs around. He said there is a history of vandalism of political signs in the county, but the damage he discovered Monday morning "has gone way past that." A registered Democrat and retiree, Rose told us he's thinking about contacting Fox New's Sean Hannity to draw attention to the episode. He's filed a police report, and was installing a new sign to replace one torn down when we contacted him on Tuesday. Mykel Harris, chair of the county Republican central committee, said he was "shocked" when he heard of the damage, and decided to distribute the photos below.

Tension over the election "does seem to be escalating a bit," Harris said in an interview.

Harris called for calm in an e-mail he sent out with the pictures attached. "Fortunately we have the means to restore peace and good order to our community," he wrote. "We must stand up for our rights and the rights of others to advocate on behalf of their party, candidate or issue."



Posted by David Nitkin at 7:30 AM | | Comments (4)

Kratovil = Gilchrest = O'Malley?

The Andy Harris campaign is attempting the 1st District version of Barack Obama's current John McCain = George Bush line of attack by sending around an e-mail with the news that Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, who is crossing party lines to endorse Democrat Frank Kratovil, voted in 2006 for Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, instead of Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich. According to an article in The Capital, Gilchrest made this admission while accepting the John V. Kabler Award from the League of Conservation Voters at its annual dinner Monday night.

It's not so shocking that Gilchrest would have voted for O'Malley -- there's been bad blood between Gilchrest and Ehrlich ever since the congressman testified against Ehrlich's slots plan in 2003. It's also not so shocking since, as the Harris e-mail points out, Gilchrest is supporting Obama for president; the guy's evidently not so into the straight party ticket.

Harris campaign manager Chris Meekins writes: "O'Malley, Kratovil and Gilchrest support higher taxes, more wasteful government spending, and amnesty for illegal immigrants - that's liberal."

All in all, the result of the 1st District race will be a pretty interesting test case in how damaged the Republican party brand is. Harris has been running hard to the right in this district from the start (recall the "Gilchrest and Pipkin -- two peas in a liberal pod" line from the primaries and the current "liberal policies never work" tagline in some of his ads), betting that it's not as moderate as Gilchrest's long record of success there would suggest. In 1994, when Republicans were sweeping nationwide, that strategy would definitely have worked. In 2008? We'll soon find out.

Posted by Andy Green at 7:13 AM | | Comments (1)

October 21, 2008

New slots ad: Keep Maryland money in Maryland

Keeping with its economic argument for expanded gambling, the pro-slots ballot committee For Maryland For Our Future released a new ad today arguing that voters should approve November's gambling referendum to keep Maryland money in Maryland.

This has long been a mainstay of the pro-slots argument, and a point designed to appeal to people who might not be all that keen on playing slots themselves. Essentially, it says that Marylanders are playing slots anyway, so why not get the benefit of it here?

The ad pegs the amount Marylanders now spend on slots out of state at $400 million, but that figure isn't set in stone. The number comes from a 2007 report from Labor, Licensing and Regulation Secretary Tom Perez and is calculated based on a five-year-old study from Delaware about the percentage of people from other states who play slots there and a guesstimate from the owner of Charles Town Races and Slots in West Virginia. Based on that, Perez estimates that Marylanders spend $350 million to $400 million a year on slots in those states.

Setting aside the question of whether those numbers are accurate, they point to an interesting thing about slots math. If all we were contemplating was keeping Maryland revenue in Maryland, the $400 million the state's residents now spend on slots in neighboring states would translate into just $268 million for the treasury, a far cry from the $600 million-plus the state is expecting.

To get to $600 million for the state, slots parlors in Maryland would have to gross about $896 million a year, or more than double what Perez estimates Marylanders are now plunking into the machines in West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Granted, some of the Maryland revenue would be expected to come from out-of-staters, but how much, given that Maryland is virtually surrounded by states that allow gambling? Unless 70 percent of Maryland's slots take comes from out of state (probably not a realistic guess), the slots plan is predicated on the notion that Marylanders would gamble more than they do now if slots are allowed here.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:02 PM | | Comments (13)

On the road again

How did Rep. Steny H. Hoyer become House majority leader? Colleagues speak of the Southern Maryland Democrat’s skill as a negotiatior, his ability to manage the House floor and his good relations not only with the various factions of his own party but also with many Repubilcans.

But when the No. 2 position in the House came down to a vote two years ago between Hoyer and Rep. John P. "Jack" Murtha of Pennsylvania – the candidate preferred by Speaker Nancy Pelosi – it didn’t hurt that Hoyer had campaigned for many of those casting ballots.

With Congress out of session, Hoyer is back on the road this week, to raise money for candidates in Georgia and Louisiana today, Texas tomorrow, Florida on Thursday and Mississippi on Friday. By the end of the trip, Hoyer will have traveled to 96 congressional districts in 34 states during the 2008 election cycle to recruit candidates and campaign for colleagues, according to his political action committee. He has contributed $1.5 million to Democratic candidates and helped them raise another $5 million. Hoyer also has given $1.1 million to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County, and helped it raise another $3.9 million.

Hoyer is already the highest-ranking Maryland congressman ever. We asked if he had any interest in the speakership.

“I’m a hundred percent for Nancy Pelosi,” he said. “I think the speaker has done an excellent job, and I think we make a good team.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:29 PM | | Comments (0)

October 20, 2008

FRC: No on abortion, no on gay marriage, no on slots

The Family Research Council, a national conservative Christian organization best known for its opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, is weighing in today on Maryland's slots debate.

In an e-mail that just hit our inbox, sandwiched between items about Joe Biden's position on gay marriage and Barack Obama's support for abortion rights, the Washington-based outfit urges Marylanders to vote no on Question 2.

"For 40 years, the Old Line State has held the line on gambling, refusing to cave to those who claim slots would cure Maryland's financial woes," the FRC says. "While it may bring some temporary relief to the state, that revenue will surely be offset by the social ills these slots would create."

The organization cites Sunday's editorial by the Washington Post opposing slots. It makes to mention of The Sun's editorial expressing support. The complete FRC comment follows.

Maryland's Question 2: Don't Bet on It!

Using the hard economic times as bait, Maryland's pro-gambling camp has been out in force to push Question 2, the ballot initiative that would reinstate the state's slot machines. For 40 years, the Old Line State has held the line on gambling, refusing to cave to those who claim slots would cure Maryland's financial woes. While it may bring some temporary relief to the state, that revenue will surely be offset by the social ills these slots would create. In an editorial opposing Question 2, the Washington Post points to a study by the University of Maryland which estimates that "the costs of alcoholism, gambling addition, and bankruptcies... could total $228 million to $628 million annually"-all but eliminating any revenue the state stands to gain. Last week, another study by the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research warned voters, "Slots could create almost 100,000 new pathological and problem gamblers in the state." Despite what slot proponents claim, a "yes" on Question 2 is essentially a "no" for real relief in homes across Maryland. We encourage state leaders to ease the burden on hard-working families, not add to it by throwing open the state's doors to increased crime and substance abuse.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:03 PM | | Comments (9)

New pro-slots poll finds state is pro-slots

For Maryland, For Our Future, the pro-slots ballot committee, released the results of its latest internal poll this afternoon and found 58-38 support for the November gambling referendum. That's exactly the same level of support the question got the last time the group polled on it. The memo from pollster Frederick S. Yang is generally very upbeat (as you'd expect anything the pro-slots side releases would be).

Those numbers are a pretty marked contrast with the latest independent polling on the subject, the September survey by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies, which found a narrow 49-43 plurality in favor of slots.

Until some other polls come out, it'll be hard to know what to make of this result. It could be that one of the surveys is flat-out wrong, a simple case of a pollster finding what his clients want to hear, or something more complicated.

The previous Gonzales survey came out right in the middle of a tussle over the wording of the ballot initiative, when anti-slots groups were making the case that the O'Malley administration was overreaching in crafting language emphasizing the purported benefits of slots for education and not mentioning hundreds of millions that would go to the gambling and horse racing industry. This new survey comes in the middle of a pretty well funded advertising push by the pro-slots side and amid a deepening state budget crisis that reinforces the pro-slots message of solving Maryland's structural deficit without raising taxes. It would not be a stretch to think that the enviornment might have been better for the anti-slots message in September and might be better for the pro-slots side now.

Posted by Andy Green at 2:38 PM | | Comments (0)

Obama and Cummings: Let's share

I'm a contented resident of the 7th District in Maryland, which means my congressman is Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.

You know who else knows that?

Barack Obama.

I just received an email from Obama, alerting me that there is "a candidate for change in Maryland."

"Dear David," the email says. "You can change politics in this country at every level -- up and down the ballot. Our records show that you live in Maryland's 7th district. There's a candidate in Maryland who'se working to bring the change this country needs, and that candidate is Elijah Cummings."

The email then gives me a link to Cummings's Web site.

I find this to be a pretty slick use of Obama's impressive data-collection efforts, which have been chronicled extensively, including in this piece by David Talbot of MIT's Technology Review.

It's not surprising that Obama would look to help Cummings -- who endorsed the Illinois senator early and is a co-chairman of the Maryland effort for Obama.

But in the old model of politics, it would be the incumbent congressman who turns over his or her resources for a presidential campaign to use. Obama has flipped that model on its head.

Before the angry emails start, let me say this: The Obama campaign has my email address not because I am a supporter or donor or even a registered Democrat -- which I am not. (I am registered as an independent, not affiliated with a political party.) But I did provide the campaign with my e-mail address for journalistic purposes such as keeping track of its solicitations, and accessing information about local events. I did the same with the McCain campaign.

I don't recall giving the Obama campaign my home address, however. (Perhaps I did when registering on their Web site, but it was months ago, and I just don't remember). If I did not, then they used database tools to match my name and other identifying information with my home address and congressional district.

That's even more slick.

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:11 PM | | Comments (1)

Stamping out voter fraud: Whom to trust?

U.S. Atty. Rod Rosenstein sent out notice this morning that his office is heading up a task force in conjunction with the FBI to review any allegations of voter fraud and voting rights abuses in Maryland during November's election. The announcement comes in the mist of a quadrennial partisan fight over voting, with Republicans crying voter fraud (latest bete noire: ACORN) and Democrats complaining that the GOP is trying to disenfranchise voters (to wit, the recent court case in Ohio about whether the Democratic secretary of state could be required to effectively help local elections officals to purge the voter rolls).

Democrats might find some cause for alarm that Rosenstein is stepping in. After all, one of the biggest scandals of the Bush administration has been the evidence of political meddling in the justice department and the pressure for U.S. attorneys to go after Democrats in fraud and corruption investigations.

Republicans might not be so happy about this either, though. Per DOJ guidelines, Rosenstein says, he has consulted with local elections officials, specifically state elecitons chief Linda Lamone. Yes, the same Linda Lamone that Bob Ehrlich's appointees tried to fire only to see her saved by the divine intervention of the courts and Senate Prez. Mike Miller. 

So what you've got is a Justice Department that a lot of Democrats think is politicized working with a state elections agency a lot of Republicans think is politicized. What could go wrong? 


Posted by Andy Green at 12:41 PM | | Comments (0)

October 19, 2008

The Baltimore Sun: For slots, after being against them

Opponents of slot machine gambling were chagrined to pick up today's Baltimore Sun and find that the paper's editorial board reversed itself after years of opposing gambling.

Critics charged the newspaper of "buckling to corporate pressure and selling out Maryland."

"(I)t appears the editorial decisions are being made by corporate suits in Illinois, the Tribune Company, and not by the independent editorial board here in Maryland," said Scott Arceneaux, senior adviser to Marylanders United to Stop Slots, a committee urging a "no" vote on Question 2.

Slots critics had gotten wind of the pro-slots editorial, and were prepared with examples of past editorials that had blasted an expansion of gambling.

In 1999, the paper called slots "an invitation to corruption and addiction," and a 2002 editorial said "you just can't gamble your way to fiscal health." In 2004, the paper called slot machines "a robbing of Peter to pay Paul that would disproportionately cannibalize and cut jobs at nearby restaurants and retailers."

Baltimore Sun publisher Timothy Ryan and members of the editorial board would not discuss last week how the decision came about. They said the endorsement, which called the current fiscal crisis "extraordinary times," would speak for itself.

"Without new revenue, Marylanders face truly unacceptable choices," the editorial said. "Public education and health care for the disadvantaged represent the majority of state spending and therefore cannot be held harmless in this cash-strapped environment. Both will soon suffer as budget cuts grow deeper and deeper. The prospect of higher taxes is just as ruinous an alternative if in raising taxes the government winds up dampening prospects for economic recovery."

Opponents of slots were more pleased with the decision by the editorial board of The Washington Post, which also issued its stance on Question 2 on Sunday.

"Before Maryland's faltering economy became the referendum's selling point, slots supporters said that the machines were needed to save the state's horse-racing industry. One-sixth of slots revenue would sweeten race purses, an unnecessary subsidy that would mostly benefit out-of-state owners and Maryland's wealthiest breeders," the Post's editorialists said. "Why should the state spend its dwindling dollars to bolster wealthy breeders rather than, say, Chesapeake Bay watermen? Maryland had the good sense to rid itself of the machines 40 years ago, and voters should continue to resist the glow of slot machines and the false promise of pain-free revenue they represent."

So add the Baltimore Sun editorial board to the list of those – like House Speaker Mike Busch – who were against slots before they were for it.

Posted by David Nitkin at 5:18 PM | | Comments (14)

October 18, 2008

Quotes of the week

As we roll into the third-to-last weekend before Election Day, here are some of our favorite quotes from the week in Maryland Politics:

-- An exchange at the Board of Public Works: "I think we can all agree we'll be better off with slots revenue than without it," said Gov. Martin O'Malley.
"Want to take a vote on that?" replied Comptroller Peter Franchot.

-- "We've got to go out and do this, huh?" O'Malley, breaking a silent pause at a conference table before heading into a public room to propose and vote on $300 million in state budget cuts.

-- "I always appreciate a history lesson on previous votes," Franchot, in response to an unusually sharp retort from Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.
Talking about how legislative decisions in the past decade to cut the state income tax and beef up education spending have cause long-term problems, Kopp said the Franchot, a former delegate: "Perhaps this was not what you had in mind when you voted for them."

-- "Blatantly and intentionally lying to voters speaks to a profound lack of personal integrity and makes Andy Harris completely unfit for the office he’s seeking.” Kevin Lawlor, a spokesman for Democrat Frank Kratovil, attacking a Harris ad in the 1st District congressional race based on a misquote.

-- "This was Kratovil's 'macacca' moment and he is going to have to answer to voters for it." Harris campaign manager Chris Meekins, refusing to back down from using the Kratovil quote on whether Congress's vote on a $700 billion bailout package "solved" an immediate crisis but not an underlying problem.

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)

October 17, 2008

Slots: Coming soon to a neighborhood near you

The folks over at Marylanders United to Stop Slots have come out with a handy-dandy web tool to measure how far you are from a proposed slots parlor under November's referendum. (If they were really cool, they'd rig it up for your iPhone and give you driving directions, but maybe they'll roll that out next week.)

Their intention, presumably, is to alarm people by making them realize just how close they'd live to all the clinging clanging machines. (My house, for example: 7.26 miles from the proposed Baltimore site, which the web app conveniently tells me will house up to 3,750 machines.) Seems like this could just as easily be a selling point for people tired of schlepping to Delaware...

Posted by Andy Green at 10:11 AM | | Comments (0)

October 16, 2008

Is Roscoe in a real race?

The state Democratic Party is sending around a poll it commissioned showing long-time GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett running just 6 points ahead of Democrat Jennifer Dougherty in the race for the 6th District in Western Maryland.

Considering Roscoe beat his Democratic opponent (a real, live Iraq war vet) 59-38 two years ago, and Dougherty lost her re-election bid as Frederick mayor in the Democratic primary three years ago 57-43, this would count as major proof of a big Democratic surge, if true.

The intensity of the Harris-Kratovil race on the Eastern Shore is giving Maryland Dems big dreams of picking up a seat they never really expected to get, but Western Maryland? Really? So far, this one has been comparatively quiet, and the objective data doesn't point to a close race. The October reports with the FEC show Dougherty raised $30,432.07 in the last three months and has $27,986.80 on hand. Bartlett, on the other hand, raised $78,538.91 and had $374,142.18 in the bank. You'd think if he were worried, he'd be dipping more heavily into that account.

Then again, maybe he's just cocky after that big Esquire endorsement.

Posted by Andy Green at 11:47 AM | | Comments (3)

No more Doug Duncan to kick around?

Former MoCo exec and gubernatorial candidate Doug Duncan resigned yesterday from his cushy (or at least highly remunerative) post at College Park yesterday. University officials insist the resignation had nothing to do with an incident in which Duncan claimed that top university lobbyist P.J. Hogan laid down the smack at the O'Malley administration's behest to stop Doug from appearing in a political forum with Bob Ehrlich.

Are people buying that?

According to the AP, Duncan started talking about wanting to find another job after the incident. The O'Malley administration claims there's nothing to it. (And, of course, the idea they'd use P.J. as their hatchet man seems a little odd, as does the notion that they'd be upset to see two former rivals beat each other up in a forum. Then again, I'd be the last to imply that the O'M folk aren't awfully touchy where their once and maybe future Republican rival is concerned.)

Posted by Andy Green at 10:07 AM | | Comments (0)

Martin O'Malley spins for Barack Obama

Paul West, the Baltimore Sun's Washington bureau chief, caught up with Gov. Martin O'Malley last night in the spin room at Hofstra University in New York, the site of the third and final presidential debate.

Reports West: "The governor, who supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries, said he had been asked by Obama to attend. O'Malley has also campaigned in western Pennsylvania for the Democratic ticket and helped with outreach to Irish-American voters."

"Not surprisingly, O'Malley had praise for Obama's performance, saying that he'd 'handled himself with a lot of presidential bearing.' The governor added, almost with a straight face, that his assessment wasn't 'spin.'"

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:00 AM | | Comments (1)

October 15, 2008

This crisis ain't solved. It's just beginning.

The ad wars in the Harris-Kratovil congressional race are growing more intense.

Republican state Sen. Andy Harris launched an ad on Wednesday that takes Frank Kratovil to task for a statement he sort of made last week after Congress passed a $700 billion bail-out plan.

But the problem is that the quote attributed to Kratovil, which is the basis for the ad, was not only incomplete and out of context, but has been corrected on the Web site of the newspaper that originally published it.

During a campaign appearance on the Eastern Shore last week with Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Kratovil, the Democratic state's attorney from Queen Anne's County, addressed a question about the $700 billion bail-out plan just approved by Congress. The Daily Times of Salisbury at first quoted Kratovil as saying "We solved the crisis."

That's not exactly what Kratovil said, and he raised a concern about the quote. The event had been recorded by Mikulksi's staff. The audio was transcribed, and the full quote was shipped to the newspaper, which has updated its online story.

The full quote now reads "The bigger issue is, what do we do now. As I mentioned in my talk, in this country we often times deal with a crisis, we solve a crisis but we don't always deal with the long term issues that led to the crisis."

But the Harris campaign likes the original, incorrect quote -- "We solved the crisis" -- better. The new commercial uses spooky music and repeated references to the quote to call Kratovil "clueless," "liberal," and "very wrong."

Kratovil is hopping mad about the Harris ad. His campaign calls it "garbage," and charges Harris with engaging in a "campaign of dishonesty."

Things are getting nasty in the contest for the 1st District. And there's still more than two weeks to go.

Posted by David Nitkin at 5:26 PM | | Comments (3)

Kratovil out-raises Harris

Or so his campaign says; the report isn't actually posted on the FEC's website yet. A news release from Frank Kratovil's campaign says the Democrat raised $602,827 in the third quarter, compared to $558,891.83 for Andy Harris. It marks the first quarter in which Kratovil posted a bigger number than Harris, though that's only because Harris loaned his own campaign $100,000 last quarter.

It's best to take the early numbers with something of a grain of salt until we can actually see the report -- the Kratovil release conspicuously doesn't mention the Democrat's cash on hand, which at this stage in the game is crucial. He may have raised a bunch last quarter but spent even more. We don't know yet. Also, we don't know where his money is coming from.

But that said, the numbers do reinforce the sense that we've got the first truly competitve Congressional general election Maryland has seen since 2002.

Posted by Andy Green at 4:31 PM | | Comments (1)

Trusting the testimonials in Harris/Kratovil race

At least 650,000 people live in the 1st Congressional District, which includes the Eastern Shore and portions of Harford, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. Of those registered to vote in a political party, just under half are Republicans, which is a lot for Maryland. Of those, at least three quarters who turn out to vote will likely cast their ballot for state Sen. Andy Harris, who beat incumbent Republican Wayne Gilchrest in a primary.

So with tens of thousands of Harris supporters out there, why does it appear hard for him to find fans to appear in his television commercials?

The Harris campaign has been fond of the "person on the street" testimonial-type advertisement.

They used one during the primary, to attack Gilchrest as too liberal and out of touch with the district.

"He's changed," says a beefy guy wearing a hoodie, standing in front of a Hyster forklift in a warehouse.

"He votes for big spending," complains the young woman with a blond bob haircut and a red sweater, standing near a deli counter.

They're using another one now, to attack Democratic nominee Frank Kratovil.

"Just too liberal," says a beefy guy wearing a hoodie, standing in front of a Hyster forklift in a warehouse.

"He's a big spender," says the young woman with a blond bob haircut and a red sweater, standing near a deli counter.

Huh? Tivo, do we have a problem?

The beefy guy and the blond woman are the only two of several speakers -- all anonymous -- who appear in both ads. Other cast members mention either Kratovil or Gilchrest by name, and are therefore unique to that commercial.

Neither spot is overly convincing in its realism. You'd have to be pretty thick to believe these were voters chosen at random on the streets of Salisbury or Easton, giving unscripted views of politicians.

But still, isn't there something dishonest about giving viewers the impression that a "real person" is criticizing Kratovil, when in fact they may have been talking about Gilchrest? Or, for that matter, they may talking about some generic opponent that Harris was always going to run to the right of, and brand as "too liberal."

The Harris campaign denies that it is being deceptive. "These individuals believe Frank Kratovil is a liberal," says Harris campaign manager Chris Meekins, although he would not disclose the names of the two speakers to Maryland Politics, or provide contact information.

"They've already said what they want to say publically," he said.

The Kratovil campaign said the testimonial ads -- and another Harris released today which they say misuses a Kratovil quote that had been corrected by the newspaper that originally published it -- together "demonstrate a profound lack on integrity." (More on that new ad to come, so check back later.)

You, blog readers, can decide for yourself. Watch the two ads, and let us know what you think.

Here's the commercial slamming Gilchrest:

Here's the spot against Kratovil:

Posted by David Nitkin at 1:29 PM | | Comments (1)

Measuring the drapes for state senate

Contenders are lining up for the vacancy that would be created if state Sen. Andy Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, wins his race for Congress. One of the most visible is Al Redmer, the former House of Delegates minority leader and state insurance commissioner under Bob Ehrlich.

Redmer was once near the top of the GOP heap in Maryland, but he faces a few obstacles in rejoining the General Assembly. First, he didn't represent Harris's 7th District in Annapolis; he was elected from the adjacent 8th District. Second, he's been out of office for five years, and is not well known by several of the members of the area Republican central committee, which would select a replacement that must be approved by the governor.

Often in such cases, it is the three state delegates in the district who have a leg up. In this case, that means J.B. Jennings, Rick Impallaria and Pat McDonough would all get serious looks, if they are interested. McDonough appears more interested in running for county executive. Jennings, a young lawmaker with many friends in Annapolis, is said to be looking at the seat. Another name in the mix is Sergio Vitale, whose family owns Aldo's restaurant in Little Italy and who, according to our friends at politickermd, has already begun raising money for the race.

Redmer has been doing the fund-raising thing, too. He announced today that a fundraiser yesterday generated $25,000. He wants to show, he told us, that if he is selected for the vacancy, he has the money to be competitive in 2010, when he would run as an incumbent. Key factors that central committee members should consider, he said, are "who can hit the ground running" and "who can raise a lot of money."

Posted by David Nitkin at 12:39 PM | | Comments (0)

Money race in the 1st

Andy Harris' latest campaign finance report is up, showing that the Republican is continuing to rake it in. His haul for the third quarter was $558,891.83, up from his $431,550.58 in the second quarter. And unlike last time, he didn't loan his campaign any money this quarter.

(He wrote a check from his personal coffers for $100,000 on the last day of the previous filing period, guaranteeing better numbers for that report.*)

With a month to go, Harris has about $750,000 in cash to spend, and that doesn't account for independent expenditures from groups like the Club for Growth, which has been bankrolling pro-Harris/anti-Kratovil ads of late. In addition, about 10 percent of Harris' money this quarter came from individual donors earmarked through the Club for Growth.

Kratovil's camp says his numbers should be ready sometime this afternoon, so stay tuned. The parity in the money looks like a big part of what's keeping this race competitive (along with national winds of change helping the Democrat in what was designed by state leaders to be a safe Republican district). As much as Harris has used his bankroll to try to paint Kratovil as an out-of-touch liberal, the Democrat has had the means to respond (thanks in no small part to his own big assist from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which the Harris campaign pegs at about four times the Club for Growth ad buy). If Kratovil puts up a big number this afternoon, that would be a signal that this one could stay close until the end.

*Correction: In an earlier version of this post, I read a form wrong and incorrectly said that without the Harris loan last quarter, Kratovil would have out-raised him. That's not true; Harris out-raised him even without the loan.

Posted by Andy Green at 12:12 PM | | Comments (3)

October 14, 2008

Big shocker: Budget numbers getting worse

In case you were wondering if maybe somehow the global financial meltdown might be helping Maryland's budget situation, the answer would be, um, no. New numbers out this afternoon from Department of Legislative Services budget guru Warren Deschenaux peg this year's budget shortfall at about $591 million, up from a Board of Revenue Estiamtes figure of $432 million a month ago. And next year's estimate is up from a little over $1 billion to more than $1.3 billion. And that assumes slots passes. Otherwise, it would top $1.4 billion.

Just in case the legislators who are getting briefed on that this afternoon freak out and look for somewhere to pass the buck, Warren includes, as he often does in his famously droll presentations, a little hint. Pages 21-25 include a handy-dandy guide to just how flush with cash local governments are, at least as DLS sees it. There's the chart showing how many local governments cut property taxes this year (5), how many increased employee salaries by more than 3 percent (14) and how much local government revenue is expected to increase this year ($683.5 million, which would, yes, be more than the state needs to balance its books.) DLS has been hinting for years that the state might want to consider changing the way the state and local governments split the costs for teacher retirement, one of the single biggest things quick fixes available to the state. Local governments, of course, tend to see things differently.

Posted by Andy Green at 3:27 PM | | Comments (0)

Liberal pushback on budget cuts

Gov. O'Malley's latest round of proposed cuts hits some of the groups in his liberal base (teachers, labor unions, etc.), and he's starting to get a little resistance from the left.

 Disabilities activists (led by indefatigable white hat lobbyist Susan O'Brien) are rallying before tomorrow's Board of Public Works meeting on Lawyers Mall to try to get Peter Franchot and Nancy Kopp to vote against cuts to services for the disabled. (Franchot has been known to raise a stink in similar circumstances, but he's signalling this time that he'll go along with the cuts.)

Susan writes: "These services are already underfunded, with more than 18,000 Maryland citizens waiting for DDA services and hourly wages for service providers to the disabled and mentally ill at some of the lowest rates among health care workers.  Cuts to these programs will devastate Maryland’s most vulnerable citizens and force Maryland’s 'working poor' who serve them to find jobs elsewhere."

Earlier today, the left-leaning Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute sent out an analysis of the proposed cuts, including a section titled, "A few really bad ideas." Among them are plans to cut substance abuse treatment, child care subsidies and school breakfast programs.

What will be interesting going forward is what happens when and if O'Malley actually goes through with some of hte more sensitive items on the potential cuts list: six-day furloughs for state workers and reductions to the Geographic Cost of Education Indexing plan. (What is this, you may ask? The important thing to know is it's an optional part of Thornton that teachers and people from Montgomery County really, really want funded.) The indications we're getting are that he isn't going to seek a vote on those tomorrow but may do so later in the year after talking to the appropriate stakeholders. State employees and Montgomery County voters are hugely important parts of O'Malley's base, and they'd be likely to make a lot more noise than a rally on Lawyers Mall.

The way things are going, it might seem like those cuts are inevitable -- they total almost $100 million by themselves -- but I wouldn't be surprised if, given their political sensitivity, O'Malley waits to decide on them until after the slots referendum. After all, why antagonize the foot-soldiers who he has already convinced to back slots?

If the referndum passes, he may feel like he has a little more fiscal breathing room -- or, at least, more time to rebuild relations if he angers the unions. If slots fail, those groups may be the least of his problems.

Andrew A. Green

Posted by Andy Green at 1:22 PM | | Comments (1)

BaltCo union guy hits the big time

A new AFL-CIO mailer features a familiar face around Baltimore County union/political circles: Mike Day, the head of the county's fire union, defending Barack Obama on guns:


According to, it's going to 80,000 union households in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Posted by Andy Green at 12:15 PM | | Comments (0)

More on O'Malley vs. Ehrlich on the budget

In response to some of the comments on my previous post on O'Malley and Ehrlich budget cutting efforts, I went back to the budget documents to try to settle the question of who is the bigger spendthrift, the Democrat or the Republican. For purposes of comparison, I'll look at ongoing spending (not transfers to reserve accounts or funding for capital projects). Here's what we've got (numbers in millions; numbers starting in FY 2007 are estimates and thus could change with final close-out number someday):

FY 2003 (Glendening's last budget): $10,240

FY 2004 (Ehrlich's first): $10,448

FY 2005: $11,159

FY 2006: $12,069

FY 2007: $13,410

FY 2008 (O'Malley's first): $14,254

FY 2009: $14,837

That translates to the following year-over-year growth rates:

FY 2004 (Ehrlich): 2.0 percent

FY 2005 (Ehrlich): 6.8 percent

FY 2006 (Ehrlich): 8.2 percent

FY 2007 (Ehrlich): 11.1 percent

FY 2008 (O'Malley): 6.3 percent

FY 2009 (O'Malley): 4.1 percent

We'll get some updates this afternoon on where the budget analysts think things are going from here. O'Malley pushed for and got plans to ramp up spending on Medicaid, transportation and Chesapeake Bay cleanup during the special session, and time will tell whether the new economic realities will force him to give up on that. Related to that, of course, is the question of slots. If it fails, you can pretty much kiss those new programs goodbye, and if it succeeds, at this rate, we may still find ourselves pretty much just treading water.

Posted by Andy Green at 10:49 AM | | Comments (0)

A Tie in the 1st?

Frank Kratovil's campaign sent around a memo yesterday from their pollster claiming a slight lead in the hotly contested 1st Congressional District race against Republican Andy Harris. The Democratic state's attorney from Queen Anne's County leads the race in the traditionally Republican district 43-41, the memo says, which, given the 5-point margin of error, is really a tie. In a district basically designed to produce a Republican congressman, that would be pretty surprising.

There hasn't been any independent polling in this race recently, so there's no way of knowing how accurate this is. (The analysis in the memo -- "The poll clearly shows that Frank Kratovil's campaign of independent, common-sense change is generating strong bipartisan appeal among 1st CD residents" etc. -- doesn't exactly scream "objective.") On the other hand, there was a poll out yesterday showing Barack Obama up 2 in North Dakota, so who knows? Could be a big Democratic year.

Harris' top guy, Chris Meekins, isn't buying it. His response after the jump:


 I wish I had whatever Kratovil's pollster is drinking.

Our numbers show voters are learning Frank Kratovil is just another Liberal Democrat and the more people who know that, the worse Kratovil's numbers get.

Kratovil and his campaign has lost all credibility:

He said he was for the bailout on Monday, then said he opposed it on Tuesday.

He called just talking about tax cuts "irresponsible" in March, now he says he supports them.

He said "do not open new areas" to drilling in July, and now he says he wants to open new areas.

He said he supported the "amnesty" bill in Congress last year in January, now he says he will be tough on illegal immigration.

After seeing the misleading campaign ads, I am not surprised they would release a misleading poll.


Posted by Andy Green at 7:00 AM | | Comments (7)

October 13, 2008

Budget cuts update

O'Malley communications chief Rick Abbruzzese writes in to let us know the governor is planning to seek more than $300 million in cuts at Wednesday's Board of Public Works meeting. That's up from the figures that were being tossed around last week and more than he absolutely needs to do to get through this fiscal year. (Of course, given that next year looks worse, this round of cuts may not be the last of it.)

Andrew A. Green

Posted by Andy Green at 1:51 PM | | Comments (1)

Political operative smackdown '08

Just as the slots referendum is shaping up as a bit of a proxy war between Martin O'Malley and Peter Franchot, so, too, is it a rematch between two of the state's top political hired guns, Steve Kearney and Scott Arceneaux, who are doing behind-the-scenes work for the pro and anti sides respectively.

Round 1 went to Steve when Scott's candidate in the 2006 Democratic primary, Doug Duncan, dropped out, clearing the way for O'Malley's eventual victory in the governor's race.

And Round 2? So far, by one measure at least, it's going Scott's way. According to campaign finance reports provided by the ballot committees on both sides of the issue, Arceneaux is pulling down $10,000 a month to lead the crusade against slots. And Kearney's getting...nothing? Yep, O'Malley's former communciations director is doing this one pro bono. Guess the boys over at KO Public Affairs must be doing OK in their new venture.

(Of course, when it comes to money, Arceneaux has been beating the pants off Kearney for a while. Scott pulled down $269,316.94 in his 14 months with the Duncan campaign. According to the state campaign finance database, Steve got 500 bucks from the O'Malley campaign once, back in September of '99.)

Andrew A. Green 


Posted by Andy Green at 12:51 PM | | Comments (0)

O'Malley vs. Ehrlich: Who cut more?

Gov. O'Malley is set to go before the Board of Public Works this week to push for hundreds of millions in cuts to this year's budget to plug a $432 million hole brought on by the tanking economy. It is, by my count, the fourth major haircut the budget has taken since O'Malley became governor.

Nonetheless, O'Malley hasn't exactly won a reputation as a budget cutter, at least among his critics, who tend to focus more on the $1.3 billion in new taxes he pushed through rather than the money he's hacked out of the budget. Republicans continue to hit him hard on spending, saying he should have been cutting more, sooner. The idea they've been pushing for a while is a spending freeze, kind of like what John McCain has been suggesting on the federal level.

In that light, it's interesting to look back at what happened when the GOP controlled the governor's office under similar circumstances. When Bob Ehrlich took office, the financial situation was terrible. The economy was still in the post-9/11 doldrums, the Thornton education funding plan was kicking in and the bill for hefty Glendening-era spending was coming due. Making matters worse for him, the legislature, in what was to become an annual tradition, rejected his slots plan.

Ehrlich's response? In his first two years in office, he cut $932 million in general fund spending.

(He also increased taxes and fees by a little over $1 billion, a fact his defenders tend to gloss over but which the Democrats will be more than happy to remind you of.)

So how does O'Malley  stack up?

In his first session, O'Malley proposed spending about $232 million less than the state's baseline estimates. (That's the same methodology I used above to get the figures for Ehrlich when I wrote about it a couple of years ago.) In the summer of 2007, O'Malley came back to the Board of Public Works and got them to cut $213 million or so from the General Fund. In November's special session, the legislature mandated more spending cuts, which amounted to about $509 million in reductions this spring.

All told, that comes to $954 million, or pretty darn close to the same amount Ehrlich cut over a comparable amount of time in office (though slightly less in percentage terms).

Unfortunately for O'Malley, that's where the comparison ends.

About this time in Ehrlich's term, the real estate market went nuts, and state revenues went through the roof. In his last two years in office, Ehrlich got to make massive increases in state spending (way more than Glendening ever did), just the sort of thing that can help a politician heading into a tough re-election battle. (Though, in this case, maybe not enough.)

O'Malley, on the other hand, is catching the downside of that hot real estate market and the global financial meltdown it helped create. The structural budget deficit O'Malley thought he'd fixed last year is back, to the tune of $432 million this year and $1 billion (at least) next year. On Wednesday, O'Malley will be proposing between $200 million and $250 million in cuts and will probably be back for more before the year is out. And that may only be the beginning.

Andrew A. Green

Posted by Andy Green at 10:38 AM | | Comments (7)

Before slots, another question: Early voting?

The ballot you'll receive on Nov. 4 – or earlier, if you are voting absentee – is chock full of intriguing choices.

There's Barack Obama versus John McCain for president. There's Andy Harris against Frank Kratovil if you vote in the 1st District congressional race. There's slots. Finally you get to decide whether you are for more gambling, or against it.

Then there's a constitutional amendment that has received virtually no attention so far.

The slots referendum is actually the second statewide ballot question. The first is whether to allow early voting in Maryland.

Lawmakers in 2005 passed an early voting system, and reinstated it after a veto by then Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Opponents sued, and in 2006 the state's highest court ruled that the plan was unconstitutional. The constitution now reads that election day shall take place on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and that eligible voters must vote in the ward or district in which they preside.

The Democratic majority in the state General Assembly wants to change that to allow for an early voting period. If voters approve, elections officials will establish a 10-day period within two weeks of Election Day to let registered voters record their choices. By changing the constitution, the amendment would alleviate concerns raised by the Court of Appeals.

The benefits and costs of early voting have been distorted by partisan politics.

Early voting is a convenience for people who work odd-hour shifts or commute long distances, Democrats argue.

Republicans in Maryland are opposed to the initiative. They say it is unnecessary, and opens the door to fraud. Blair Lee IV, a columnist and longtime political observer, says the plan is expensive, and details – such as when and where the early-opening polls will be – haven't been well-thought out.

UMBC political scientist Thomas F. Schaller is a critic of early voting, arguing that campaigns matter and events change, and voters might be locking in decisions with incomplete information through early voting.

Fifteen states allowed early voting in 2006, legislative researchers said. With interest in this year's election running exceptionally high, and no organized campaign against Question 1, look for the early voting plan to pass and Maryland to be added to the list.

But wait. There's more.

Voters in Baltimore City and Baltimore County will have a lot more decisions to make. The Baltimore ballot runs to 11 pages, City Hall reporter Annie Linskey has found, because it seeks voter approval for a series of loans to cultural institutions, from the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center to the Walters art museum and Everyman Theater.

In Baltimore County, voters will decide of a range of capital projects, from community colleges to land preservation. For a full list of ballot questions, click here.

So for many of you, you might be spending a little bit more time inside the voting booth than you expected.

David Nitkin

Posted by David Nitkin at 6:30 AM | | Comments (1)
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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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