- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

The two major-party candidates for Maryland governor say they would support the death penalty for John Allen Muhammad if he is convicted as the serial sniper who has spread fear across the Washington area for the past three weeks.
"Kathleen Kennedy Townsend definitely feels this is a death-penalty case," said Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Democratic candidate's campaign.
"Guilt or innocence is something for the courts to decide, but his position is the same as it has always been," said Shareese DeLeaver, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Republican candidate. "He supports the death penalty and he would in this case."
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, imposed a moratorium on death-penalty cases in Maryland earlier this year because he wanted to make sure the sentence was being carried out fairly. Mrs. Townsend, the lieutenant governor, supported the move.
Support of the moratorium and imposition of the death penalty for Mr. Muhammad are not contradictory, Mr. Hamm said, because the moratorium applies only to criminals who were sentenced before it took effect.
"The current moratorium would not have an impact because it does not apply. There is nothing vis-a-vis the moratorium [that would prohibit] using the death penalty here. She firmly believes this is a death-penalty case," Mr. Hamm said.
If elected, Mr. Ehrlich would lift the moratorium. Miss DeLeaver said Mrs. Townsend's support of the death penalty in this case is just political posturing less than two weeks before the election.
A poll released Monday by Gonzales/Arscott Research & Communications shows the race for governor is too close to call: Mr. Ehrlich had 46 percent, Mrs. Townsend had 45 percent, Libertarian Spear Lancaster had 1 percent and the rest were undecided.
Both campaigns and the state parties are hoping that now that a suspect is in custody, voters especially those undecided will focus their attention on the race only 11 days away. Many voters have been apprehensive about venturing out since the sniper began shooting in early October, and media outlets focusing on the shootings have provided minimal coverage of the race.
"There have been a lot of constituent groups that have been holding rallies in recent weeks, but they were not getting the coverage. There has been a lot hidden in the dark shadows, but hopefully the light will begin to shine on the race," said David Paulson, communications director for the Maryland Democratic Party.
"The tragic situation with the sniper merited the attention it received, but hopefully now greater attention will be paid to the coming election," said Dan Ronanye, spokesman for the Maryland Republican Party.
College Republicans have been going door-to-door recently and will continue spreading the word about the four-term congressman's campaign until Election Day. Republicans are optimistic Mr. Ehrlich could be the first Republican elected governor since Spiro T. Agnew in 1966.
"There is grass-roots excitement for Bob Ehrlich like nothing we've ever seen before," Mr. Ronanye said. "The folks in Maryland are so excited about the prospect for change that they will be able to get the message out."
Party officials from both camps said they hope mailings that have been piling up on kitchen tables now will be read. They all plan extensive media buys and phone banks in the coming days.
"There is a gigantic task ahead of us to refocus on the differences between these candidates in this election," said Mr. Paulson. "I'd look for a big upsurge in energy from everybody. Most campaigns don't get intense until three weeks before the election. Now we've got to shove three weeks into 1. It will be a very intensive time because this is an important election with important differences."
The capture of two suspects yesterdaycaused Mr. Glendening to cancel an afternoon meeting to debate whether to call out the National Guard on Nov. 5, Election Day.

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