- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Maryland's political hopefuls spent the holiday on the stump yesterday, appealing to tradition, patriotism and community at Gaithersburg's 64th annual Labor Day parade.
U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Republican candidate for state governor, strode quickly and confidently, reaching from hand to outstretched hand down the parade route. Each candidate brought a contingent of supporters, who carried signs, handed out stickers and threw candy to the crowd.
One marching band behind, the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, moved more slowly, shaking hands along the way. Her supporters, fewer in number than Mr. Ehrlich's, clapped and shouted "Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the next governor of Maryland" as they walked.
And though the two candidates didn't meet along the parade route, they did trade verbal jabs.
Mr. Ehrlich told The Washington Times that Mrs. Townsend's campaign is using smear tactics against him and his running mate.
"They tear down Bob Ehrlich and Michael Steele, they don't sell Kathleen Townsend," Mr. Ehrlich said.
Mrs. Townsend, meanwhile, said her campaign has been based on the candidates' records.
"If he thinks that describing his record is tearing down, that's his problem," she said.
But the rhetoric between the two is not the only thing that has heated up.
A statewide poll conducted last month by Gonzalez/Arscott Research shows a tight race, with Mrs. Townsend leading Mr. Ehrlich 47 percent to 43 percent with a 3.5 percent margin for error. That figure is down from the 15-point lead Mrs. Townsend held earlier this year.
"We won the first half, and we intend to win the second half as well," Mr. Ehrlich said. "We did not have the dollars to compete with her three months ago. We now do have those dollars. We have the momentum, we have the trend lines, we have the ideas, we have the ticket. Now it's just getting the job done."
Mrs. Townsend downplayed the problems in her campaign, including the ongoing federal grand jury investigation in Baltimore into the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, which is headed by the lieutenant governor.
The grand jury is looking into whether federal funds were improperly diverted from the program which administers about $45 million in federal and state grants each year to law enforcement agencies, community groups and researchers to Townsend campaign expenses.
Mrs. Townsend called the investigation "political garbage."
Mr. Ehrlich, though, said the investigation raises legitimate questions.
"Not one Democrat in this state has stepped forward to back her up. We thought she would retract her words, but so far no good," Mr. Ehrlich said. "If she wants to go out with comments like that, God bless her."
Mrs. Townsend focused on Mr. Ehrlich's education record in his four terms in Congress.
"He voted for the largest cut in education funding in American history," she said. "As soon as people know his record and my record, and my vision and his vision people will not want him as their governor."
In addition to the gubernatorial candidates, the parade also drew the candidates for the 8th District congressional seat.
Following on Mrs. Townsend's heels were Democratic candidates Mark K. Shriver, Christopher Van Hollen Jr. and Ira Shapiro.
The candidates were confident to a man that they could not only knock off one another, but also incumbent Rep. Constance A. Morella.
"We've talked about the issues that matter to working families, and Connie Morella has not represented them well," Mr. Shriver said. "Working families have been given the short shrift by the Republican administration and by the Republican Congress, and she's supporting that agenda."
Mrs. Morella, a Republican, worked the crowd with the ease of an eight-term incumbent. She acknowledged her challengers but expressed faith in the voters.
"I think everybody knows me and they know my record, they know my experience, they know my accessibility, they know my achievements," she said. "They have trusted me. Now I trust them."
The crowd, which stood three and four deep over the parade route, seemed receptive to the candidates, if not swayed by either side.
Gaithersburg resident John Moore and his wife, Colleen, brought their three daughters just to see the spectacle.
"This isn't going to sway us either way," Mr. Moore said. "This is just fun. It's good for the kids."
For children like Ryan Mallinger, 7, and Jordan Messer, 6, of Gaithersburg, the politics yesterday were nothing more than an opportunity to collect souvenirs. The two were covered with campaign stickers from just about every candidate running for office in the state.
"We like getting the stickers and stuff," Ryan said.

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