- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2006

FLINTSTONE, Md. — Democratic candidates for statewide office traveled yesterdayto Western Maryland to pitch themselves to party officials outside traditional Democratic Party strongholds and compete in a straw poll for races including governor, Senate and attorney general.

The vote by about 200 people at the Western Maryland Democratic Summit at Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort was to be one of the first tallies of party opinion ahead of the September primaries.

However, it was less than scientific. Anyone who paid $40 to register could vote, and many who attended were campaign staffers.

“They reflect the opinion of Democratic activists,” said Tom Slater, chairman of the Western Maryland Democratic Caucus, which sponsored the daylong event. “But I don’t think you can extrapolate from the results the thinking of the general public.”

Results were expected later last night.

About a dozen candidates came to the resort, near Cumberland, each taking the podium for 30-minute speeches. They also worked the crowds and lunch tables in the hallways. Young staffers festooned the lodge driveway with brightly colored campaign signs and handed out campaign stickers to whomever would take them.

The goal, members of the caucus said, was to bring candidates to a corner of the state that is often forgotten by Democrats as they fight for votes in the heavily Democratic Baltimore-Washington corridor.

“We felt there was a need to get Democrats from Western Maryland together,” Mr. Slater said. “There was a feeling that state Democrats tend to ignore Western Maryland.”

To help them navigate the local political landscape, the summit included sessions titled “Developing a Message for Western Maryland,” in which speakers gave tips on attracting voters in the traditionally Republican part of the state. And candidates did their best to show they hadn’t forgotten about the state’s western counties.

American University professor and U.S. Senate candidate Allan J. Lichtman touted his “Western Maryland Compact.”

U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, also running for the Senate, predicted Democrats would gain seats in Western Maryland local elections. Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley laid out his proposal to fight crystal methamphetamine, an illegal drug he said often appears first in rural areas before spreading to cities.

Mr. O’Malley, whose running mate is Delegate Anthony G. Brown, a Prince George’s Democrat, said their campaign will run in all 24 jurisdictions and will not “hunker down” in the two Democratic ones.

Much of the criticism was levied against Republicans, including President Bush and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the party’s likely candidate for the Senate. But some attacked each other, including Mr. Lichtman, who challenged Mr. Cardin’s voting record in Congress.

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