- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Like boxers in the opening round of a championship fight, Maryland Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend are testing each other, dancing around the ring, jabbing here, feinting there.
With the gubernatorial election four months away, this is the time for Mrs. Townsend and Mr. Ehrlich to raise money, lay out the themes of their campaign and build organizations.
It is the time to begin the maneuvering that will later in the campaign grow into frontal assaults on the opponent's record and political beliefs.
In many election years, Mrs. Townsend and Mr. Ehrlich would be worried more about primary election opponents than each other. But with only today left before the deadline for candidates to file for the gubernatorial election, they appear to have a lock on the nominations of their parties.
That means both have already begun to focus on the Nov. 5 general election.
In interviews last week, the candidates gave a preview of what may be in store for the campaign with exchanges over issues such as the economy, guns, crime and slot machines.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Ehrlich talked about what he described as the state's financial mess, which he would like to make a central issue of the campaign.
He said Mrs. Townsend and Gov. Parris N. Glendening have presided over a 48 percent growth in the state budget at a time when personal income grew 27 percent, leaving the next governor to deal with a financial crisis.
"It's been a cocktail party [in Annapolis], and everybody thought the bill would never come. Now the bill has come, and everybody is scrambling," he said.
Mr. Ehrlich said Mrs. Townsend's response has been that future budgets can be balanced through economic growth, a position he said is unrealistic.
"We're going to have to take a look at how we have grown and how we can put the brakes on some of this growth," he said.
A day later, talking to reporters in Ocean City, Mrs. Townsend defended the administration's record on the economy and the budget.
"Really, over the last eight years, we've accomplished a lot," she said. "At the same time, we balanced the budget eight years in a row. We earned a AAA bond rating."
She ticked off statistics to back up her position moving from 41st in the nation in job creation to 14th, the highest family income and lowest poverty rate in the nation, an unemployment rate significantly below the national average, $2.6 billion in tax cuts.
Mrs. Townsend said preparation of next year's budget will require tough decisions because revenue growth has ground to a halt as a result of a national recession. She said that to balance the budget, she is prepared to freeze spending at current levels except for education and crime prevention. She ruled out increases in taxes or fees in the short run.
Highlighting another area of disagreement, Mrs. Townsend said the expanded gambling that would stem from Mr. Ehrlich's support of slot machines would "mean more robberies, more thefts, more stolen cars, more assaults, more divorces, more child neglect cases and more suicides."
"This is not the right answer for Maryland's future," she said.
Mr. Ehrlich said it is hypocritical for Mrs. Townsend and Mr. Glendening to oppose slot machines at race tracks at the same time the state spends millions of dollars to encourage Marylanders to gamble by buying lottery tickets.
"I don't really understand [Mrs. Townsends] argument. I don't think slots cause increased crime," he said.
Slot machine revenues would help save the racing industry and keep Marylanders from sending money out of state, Mr. Ehrlich said. "Marylanders by the thousands every night flock to Charles Town and Delaware Park in West Virginia and Delaware and help fund prescription drug services, K-12 education, firefighters," he said.
Mr. Ehrlich also outlined differences between himself and Mrs. Townsend on guns.
"I think it is fair to say that I am more conservative on guns than Kathleen Townsend," he said. "There is a very different philosophical approach that I have compared to Kathleen Townsend. My focus has always been on the use of guns in crime."
Mrs. Townsend has put the emphasis on controlling access to guns, Mr. Ehrlich said, but the lieutenant governor said tough enforcement of laws dealing with use of guns in crime is her central focus.
Both Mr. Ehrlich and Mrs. Townsend have positioned themselves toward the center of the political spectrum.
Mr. Ehrlich considers himself a moderate Republican, citing as evidence his opposition to prohibitions against abortion and his support for background checks for people buying guns.
Mrs. Townsend is active in the Democratic Leadership Council, a national group formed to promote election of centrist Democrats. She supports the death penalty and strict enforcement of tough crime laws, positions not usually associated with liberal Democrats.
But while they are not at opposite ends of the political spectrum, they do not meet in the middle, either.
"We really have different visions, different values and different experiences," Mrs. Townsend said.
Marylanders will be hearing a lot about those differences between now and the general election.

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