- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

Maryland voters will decide the tight gubernatorial race tomorrow, closing a campaign season in which fund-raising records were broken, the state budget collapsed and the sniper terror momentarily trumped the political race card and corruption charges.
Republican nominee Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. came from behind to pass Democratic nominee Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in the polls, though never exceeding the pollsters' margin of error. Both campaigns are now counting on massive get-out-the-vote drives to win a race that has been a statistical dead heat since August.
Mr. Ehrlich was considered a long-shot candidate when he entered the race, trailing by 15 percentage points in early polls. Mrs. Townsend, the lieutenant governor and daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, entered the race with strong name recognition and a $6 million war chest, scaring off a primary challenge by Democratic political heavyweights and leading many to dub her the heir apparent to the governor's office.
"The arrogant monopoly has got to go," Mr. Ehrlich said March 25 when he announced his candidacy. He remained true to that campaign theme throughout the race, railing against the Democrat's "culture of corruption" and asking voters to make him the first Republican governor since Spiro Agnew left the State House in 1968.
As the Sept. 10 primary election drew near, Mrs. Townsend stalled in the polls and Mr. Ehrlich, a Baltimore County congressman, steadily gained on her. He won support from traditionally Democratic Jewish and black voters and focused his campaign on the Washington suburbs and Baltimore, where more than 40 percent of the state's voters live.
In the primary, Mrs. Townsend and running mate Charles R. Larson, a lifelong Republican who switched parties to join the ticket, lost about 20 percent of the vote to political newcomer Robert Raymond Fustero, a retired Silver Spring grocery store clerk who spent less than $1,500 on his campaign.
Eight days after the primary, the state's budget troubles took center stage. A revised tax-revenue estimate showed a $309.7 million deficit this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The new figures inflated the anticipated budged shortfall next year to $1.7 billion.
Mr. Ehrlich blamed the budget woes on "overspending and overpromising" by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mrs. Townsend. To balance the books, he offered a budget that centers on legalized slot-machine gambling at horse-racing tracks and savings from streamlining government. He also has promised no income- or sales-tax increases.
A week after Mr. Ehrlich's announcement, Mrs. Townsend announced her budget plan, which relied heavily on cashing in some of the $151 million annual payment from Maryland's share of the national tobacco settlement. She also said "painful cuts" were in store, but she too pledged no tax increases, except on cigarettes, alcohol and gasoline.
Mr. Ehrlich held a slight lead over Mrs. Townsend in the polls by mid-September, and Maryland Democrats found themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to plot a come-from-behind strategy.
On Sept. 18, the state's Democratic leaders met at a Washington hotel to discuss how to get Mrs. Townsend's faltering campaign back on track. Shortly after that meeting, a more aggressive and tougher-sounding Mrs. Townsend emerged on the campaign trail. But her numbers didn't improve as her attacks on Mr. Ehrlich grew stronger.
She said Mr. Ehrlich was soft on education, opposed to minority and environmental interests, and aligned with the National Rifle Association against gun control.
Mrs. Townsend's harshest attacks on Mr. Ehrlich's standing with minorities came at the Sept. 26 debate sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at Morgan State University. It was the only televised debate of the campaign.
"He opposes affirmative action based on race. Well, let me tell you, slavery was based on race. Lynching was based on race. Discrimination was based on race. Jim Crow was based on race, and affirmative action should be based on race," she said to cheers before the predominantly black audience.
The raucous crowd chanted "K-K-T" and booed Mr. Ehrlich and his running mate, Michael S. Steele, who is black. Mr. Ehrlich was taken aback by the catcalls, and many credit Mrs. Townsend with winning the debate.
The politics of race and ethnicity were injected into the campaign again in late September, when Democratic political strategist Julius Henson called Mr. Ehrlich a "Nazi" in a newspaper interview. The comment offended Jewish voters, and Mr. Henson was fired from the Democratic Party's statewide campaign.
The candidates remained in a statistical dead heat.
Mr. Ehrlich surpassed Mrs. Townsend in fund raising, taking in $8.6 million to her $7.9 million to break the state's fund-raising record.
His war chest got a boost from President Bush's appearance at an Oct. 2 fund-raising event in Baltimore, where the president delivered a glowing endorsement and supporters contributed about $1.8 million to the campaign.
Mrs. Townsend has continued to tout her successes overseeing the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention and the Department of Juvenile Justice. However, those claims were tarnished by a federal grand jury investigation into the misuse of funds at the crime control office and the shutdown of the juvenile boot camps where teenage inmates were abused.
Mr. Ehrlich, who calls himself a fiscal conservative and centrist on social issues, also had some negatives. For example, he was hampered by his stance on gun control, especially when the serial snipers held the Washington area hostage for three weeks in October and left 10 persons dead.
Shortly after his primary victory, Mr. Ehrlich said he would review the ballistic-fingerprinting program and would consider abolishing the Handgun Roster Board that decides which guns to ban. The comments fueled attacks by Mrs. Townsend that he was soft on guns, and the attacks resurfaced in the wake of the shootings.
As the body count mounted, Mrs. Townsend said she would not politicize the sniper attacks. However, she refused to call off a political action committee's TV ads attacking Mr. Ehrlich for "siding with gun-lobby extremists who threaten our neighborhoods."
The shootings also prompted Mrs. Townsend to ask state police to draft legislation to control the sale of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons such the one used in the attacks.
Despite criticism for voting against the state ban on cheaply made handguns, known as Saturday-night specials, and to repeal the federal assault-weapons ban, Mr. Ehrlich garnered endorsements from the labor unions representing Maryland State Police troopers and Montgomery County police officers.
The capture of the sniper suspects, 41-year-old John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, 17, then made capital punishment a campaign issue.
The candidates said they supported the death penalty for Mr. Muhammad if he is convicted. Mr. Ehrlich also voiced support for lowering the age to make 17-year-olds eligible for the death penalty.
The governor in May ordered a moratorium on state executions, pending a University of Maryland study into the reputed racial bias of the state's death penalty. Results of the study were due the last week of September, but they were postponed until after tomorrow's elections.

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