- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

BALTIMORE Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday wrested an upset victory from Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to become Maryland's first Republican governor since Spiro T. Agnew took office in 1966.
With 1,755 of 1,760 precincts reporting, or 99 percent, at 11:50 p.m., Mr. Ehrlich had 840,321 votes, or 53 percent, and Mrs. Townsend had 775,569 votes, or 48 percent. Spear Lancaster, the Libertarian Party candidate, had 11,008 votes, or 1 percent.
"Welcome to history," Mr. Ehrlich told a roaring crowd of about 1,200 people in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency hotel on the Inner Harbor. "There's walking history here, and his name is Michael [S.] Steele."
Mr. Ehrlich's running mate, Mr. Steele, became Maryland's first black lieutenant governor.
At the nearby Wyndham hotel, Townsend supporters wept but applauded and chanted "K-K-T," as the defeated candidate appeared on stage for her concession speech.
"I congratulate Congressman Ehrlich on his victory. He was a formidable opponent and ran an effective campaign. But we have to move on," Mrs. Townsend said amid catcalls from the crowd. "I ask that each of us join with him in doing what's right for Maryland."
"With all the charges and the countercharges fading away, we will understand that the things that unite us are far more important than the things that divide us," said Mrs. Townsend, who had led Mr. Ehrlich by 15 percentage points early in the campaign.
In a victory speech that offered something to nearly everyone and extended an invitation for Mrs. Townsend to join him, Mr. Ehrlich promised to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, reform the juvenile justice department, clean up "the budget mess," fully fund education and expand health care opportunities for all Marylanders.
The governor-elect also asked Mrs. Townsend's supporters to join him, as he pledged to work with the new members of the Democratic-led General Assembly.
"We must live together to find common ground to make Maryland a better place," he said, noting the state's diversity.
Mr. Steele, who introduced Mr. Ehrlich, said, "It's been 40 years in the desert, and with the help of Marylanders all over the state, we are now together."
Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in Maryland.
Meanwhile, charges of campaign misconduct emerged as several homeless people and students from the District said they were paid by the Ehrlich campaign to pass out leaflets at Maryland polling places.
Maryland bans paying people to participate in campaigns.
Mr. Ehrlich's campaign spokeswoman "categorically denied" all charges of illegal campaign activity.
"It is untrue," said Shareese DeLeaver. "The charges are a desperate attempt to maintain power when the state is ready for change."
Townsend campaign worker Erin O'Connell, 20, said her candidate may have suffered for being a woman. "The fact that she's a woman would have held back some people," she said. "I think Ehrlich was really good at running elections and campaigns, but his record doesn't show any real leadership skills."
Ehrlich campaign finance chairman Richard Hug said a Republican victory would have national implications.
"This is probably the most liberal state, with a 2-to-1 Democratic majority, in the country," Mr. Hug said. "This is history, beating a Kennedy. We need a change in this state big time, and it looks like we are going to get it. We will demonstrate that Republicans can and raise money, and it will be a huge change in this state."
Before his victory speech, Mr. Ehrlich said that results from 52 key precincts in Prince George's County and in Baltimore would determine if he had won the election.
"If the Baltimore city numbers hold up, 30 to 35 percent, obviously that's incredibly good, historic high for a Republican candidate," Mr. Ehrlich said of the early returns.
Both sides were seeking to make history, with Mrs. Townsend, the sitting lieutenant governor, trying to become Maryland's first female governor and Mr.Steele the first black to win statewide office in Maryland.
"Did it affect African Americans being on the ticket? Absolutely," Mr. Steele said. "I think it was very positive on the ticket."
But Denise Williams, 42, said despite Mr. Ehrlich's choosing Mr. Steele as a running mate, blacks were not impressed.
"He's using Steele to get the black vote, but it's not working. He's putting it out like he is going to do so much, but he plans to privatize the airport and 70 employees will be out of a job," said Ms. Williams, whose friends work at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Both candidates had employed massive get-out-the-vote drives in the final days of a highly competitive campaign that had been overshadowed by the sniper crisis, in which 10 persons were killed and three others wounded in random shootings around the Washington suburbs.
But campaign ads criticizing Mrs. Townsend backfired for Mr. Ehrlich among some voters in Prince George's County, a must-win jurisdiction for statewide office seekers.
Anika White, a 30-year-old black Democrat, said she voted for Mrs. Townsend partly because of a pro-Ehrlich radio spot in which two black girls bantered about how Gov. Parris N. Glendening and his lieutenant governor had done nothing to help the black community.
"They sounded uneducated," Miss White said. "It was offensive."
Another black voter, who cast a Townsend ballot at Central High School in Capital Heights, said one of Mr. Ehrlich's TV ads early in the campaign produced a powerful negative reaction that lasted until Election Day.
"He said something in a TV ad that I really didn't like," said David Goodridge, 51. "I can't remember what, but I didn't like it."
However, Warren Halterman, a white Republican from Capital Heights, said Mrs. Townsend's TV attack ads persuaded him to support Mr. Ehrlich.
"With the negative campaign, Townsend was running against him, I found myself saying, 'Yeah, I'm for that,'" said Mr. Halterman, 45.
In Stevenson, an afluent Jewish community in Baltimore County, Mr. Ehrlich's popularity among voters was more evident yesterday.
"I think we need a change," said a 62-year-old Democratic woman who voted for Mr. Ehrlich. She said her 75-year-old husband, also a lifelong Democrat, voted for the Republican. She said they both believe Mrs. Townsend represents an extension of Mr. Glendening's "do-nothing" administration. "Townsend promises everything and does nothing," she said.
Lewis Ruttenberg, a 78-year-old Republican, blamed the Glendening administration for the state's $1.7 billion budget shortfall, saying the Democrats had paid for their pet projects at the expense of working Marylanders.
Many of the traditionally Democratic voters in Stevenson, however, remaind faithful to their party. "She's got all the right intuition and inclinations. She's bright," said Lori Eisner, 48, shortly after marking her ballot for Mrs. Townsend.
Ms. Eisner said she trusts the Democrat to provide leadership on the budget, education and health care. "And I hate him," she said of Mr. Ehrlich. "He was never a leader, only a follower of the right-wing agenda."
Down by 15 percentage points at the start of the race, Mr. Ehrlich was considered a long shot against Mrs. Townsend, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and niece of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Her strong name recognition and $6 million war chest scared off many Democratic heavyweights in the primary, leading some to dub her the heir apparent to Mr. Glendening.
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 Mr. 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, Mr. Steele. 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 for a gubernatorial contest. 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 last month 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, John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, then made capital punishment a campaign issue.
Both candidates said they support 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.
Mr. Glendening 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 yesterday's elections.
Jabeen Bhatti, H.J. Brier and Scott Galupo contributed to this report.

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