- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend yesterday picked up key endorsements in the increasingly close Maryland gubernatorial race and attacked each other's records and willingness to debate the issues.

For the first time, the Maryland State Troopers Association a group of more than 2,300 current and retired state troopers endorsed Mr. Ehrlich, giving him a boost in his quest to be Maryland's first Republican governor since Spiro T. Agnew.

"Today is another rejection of the status quo," Mr. Ehrlich said. "There is a fundamental difference in this campaign with regard to crime and public safety."

Association officials said about 75 percent of the group's membership voted to endorse Mr. Ehrlich. Millard McKay, an MSTA executive board member, said the state police force has suffered a drop in manpower during Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration because of lack of funding.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Townsend picked up the endorsement of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA), which represents 240 churches, mosques and synagogues in the Baltimore area. Each congregation has between 200 and 2,000 members, many of whom are minorities.

"Don't be had with charm and charisma of the other candidates, Mr. Robert Ehrlich and [running mate] Mr. Michael Steele," said the Rev. Gregory Perkins, president of the church group. "[Mr. Ehrlich] receives consistently failing grades on civil rights, education, health care, senior citizens, labor, the environment and gun control."

Both campaigns downplayed their opponent's endorsement.

"Given our position on slots, [the IMA] endorsement is not surprising at all," said Shareese DeLeaver, spokeswoman for the Ehrlich campaign. "It was made pretty clear to us early on that they were not going to support us."

Mr. Ehrlich supports bringing slot machines to Maryland's racetracks with the proceeds going toward education funding in the state. Mrs. Townsend and the IMA oppose slot machines. The issue of slots has played a role in previous elections as Maryland's horse-racing industry has lobbied heavily for the devices.

The Townsend campaign said the state troopers' endorsement was skewed.

"We take this with a grain of salt. These are not the men and women who are currently putting their lives on the line," said Len Foxwell, a spokesman for the Townsend campaign, which contends many of the votes came from retirees.

Yesterday, Mr. Ehrlich also repeated his calls for a head-to-head debate with Mrs. Townsend, something she refuses to do until after the Sept. 10 primary. Both candidates are expected to win their party's nomination.

During the state troopers' announcement, Mr. Ehrlich said he would consider a sit-in at Mrs. Townsend's campaign offices until she agrees to a debate. Ms. DeLeaver said Mr. Ehrlich was serious about the sit-in because of the need to address the issues.

"Yesterday, she started to attack a [voting] record that is nearly a decade old. She is able to criticize his record, but she does not have a record herself, so we want to debate," Ms. DeLeaver said.

Mr. Ehrlich represented parts of Baltimore County in Annapolis for eight years before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994. Mrs. Townsend's current post is the only elective office she has held, having lost a 1986 bid for the seat Mr. Ehrlich now occupies.

Kate Philips, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Townsend, said a sit-in would be a "colossal waste of [his] time," and that the Townsend campaign will get into debates with Mr. Ehrlich after the primary.

A poll conducted by Potomac Survey Research of Bethesda and released yesterday by the Baltimore Sun and the Gazette newspapers shows Mrs. Townsend's once double-digit lead over Mr. Ehrlich has evaporated to just three points, with 47 percent of voters preferring Mrs. Townsend and 44 percent supporting Mr. Ehrlich. Another 10 percent of voters are undecided. The telephone survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from July 17-19, and has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.

"We expected the polls to tighten up," Miss Philips said, even though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in Maryland. "He did not have statewide recognition before he announced and its natural for him to want to debate because he is losing."

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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