- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

The hostile tone of Maryland's gubernatorial hopefuls at a candidate forum in Montgomery County yesterday prompted the moderator to admonish Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for mudslinging.
"There is a problem with the tone of this debate. It gets in the way of the discussion," moderator Barry Sussman said at the conclusion of the forum at B'Nai Israel Congregation in Rockville. "Every question is answered with criticism. We don't want to hear criticism.
"I don't think it is my place to criticize the candidates, but I don't have a choice."
Mr. Sussman pointed out that personal attacks did not color the race for the 8th Congressional District between Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella and Democratic state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen, who appeared earlier at the forum.
The barbs and accusations exchanged yesterday by Mrs. Townsend, the Democratic nominee, and her Republican opponent, Mr. Ehrlich, revolved around the prevailing themes of the campaigns, although the tenor of the assaults appeared to be intensifying as they entered the final three weeks of the campaign.
Mrs. Townsend accused the Baltimore County congressman of being soft on education, gun control and environmental protection. She characterized Mr. Ehrlich as a right-wing extremist who lacked the values held by most Marylanders.
"He wants to masquerade as a moderate," Mrs. Townsend said. "Let me tell you, I'm going to take his mask off."
Mr. Ehrlich accused the lieutenant governor of race baiting, conducting a negative campaign and contributing to the overspending resulting in an anticipated $1.7 billion budget shortfall next year. He said Mrs. Townsend was part of an arrogant and corrupt political culture borne of more than 30 years of Democratic leadership in Maryland.
"She says I'm for hurting kids, starving older people and putting more guns on the street so criminals can have them. It insults the intelligence," Mr. Ehrlich said. "[But] you know divisiveness works in Maryland politics."
After the forum, Mrs. Townsend said the rhetoric sounded harsh because of the profound differences between Mr. Ehrlich and herself that needed to be highlighted.
"My opponent is trying to say he is a moderate, so it is up to me to reveal his record," she said.
Mrs. Townsend said that she had always agreed to participate in two televised debates. After the first debate Sept. 26 at Morgan State University, she said, Mr. Ehrlich stopped returning her campaign's phone calls trying to schedule another debate.
Mr. Ehrlich waved off questions about not returning the phone calls.
He said that his campaign still was waiting for a response to their June letter requesting a series of debates.
He said that Mrs. Townsend was solely responsible for the negative tone of the campaign, employing a barrage of attack ads on TV and attempting to demonize him by misrepresenting his voting record in Congress.
"It's distasteful. What you heard here today speaks for itself," Mr. Ehrlich said. "We have to get over this stuff."
He said that the Townsend campaign began the attacks as soon as Mrs. Townsend's 15-point lead in the polls evaporated last month.
Recent polls show the race is a dead heat.

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