- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

CRISFIELD, Md. — Even the folksy, Eastern-Shore-style politics who typically permeate the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake got swept up yesterday in this year’s intense political races.

When supporters hoisting signs in support for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. encountered supporters for Democratic challenger Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, both sides tried to shout down each other.

Competing chants of “four more years” for Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election, and “O’Malley … O’Malley” rang out as thousands of Marylanders crowded around picnic tables covered with steamed crabs, fried clam strips and mugs of beer.

“This will happen in an election year,” said Richard Steedman, a 50-year-old builder and a regular at the annual seafood festival. “I don’t think it was this hostile four years ago. It’s a little spicy, but this is the Eastern Shore.”

The other campaigns remained polite, even friendly, to their political foes.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, was quick to shake hands with Josh Rales, a Bethesda businessman seeking the Democratic nomination in the Senate race.

“This is one of the few times when all the politicians can act civil,” Mr. Steele said. “This is a Maryland tradition. A lot of people have fun here.”

Mr. O’Malley said he didn’t notice the competitive shouting between his and Mr. Ehrlich’s supporters, which occurred as he traversed the festival grounds with a group of about 20 supporters.

“All I heard was enthusiastic cheers,” he said. “All the hands of Ehrlich supporters I shook were friendly hands.”

The mayor also said he would not resort to negative campaigning, though Mr. Ehrlich has never run “without a dirty-tricks campaign.”

He also chided Mr. Ehrlich for not attending the 30th annual event, which is considered the Eastern Shores’ social event of the season and the premier showcase for state politicians.

Mr. Ehrlich’s running mate, Kristen Cox, secretary of Maryland’s Department of Disabilities, attended the festival.

Mr. O’Malley said Eastern Shore voters think the governor has forgotten them and takes them for granted.

“I think that is why he is reluctant to campaign in rural areas,” he said.

However, yard signs for Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Steele dominated the Eastern Shore roadsides.

Also working the crowd were Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and his rivals in the Democratic primary, Delegate Peter V.R. Franchot, of Montgomery County, and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens.

Candidates for attorney general at the event included Montgomery County Council member Thomas E. Perez and Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler. The only Republican in the race, Frederick County State’s Attorney Scott L. Rolle, also was there shaking hands.

Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat in a tough primary race, said he hoped to shore up his support at the festival.

Cecilton Mayor John J. Bunnell said: “There are more people running [for office] here than regular people. It is understandable that they all come out. If you want to touch the people, this is the right day to come out.”

Carl Habig, 39, who works at the Salisbury University physical plant, said he managed to avoid the politicians.

“I walked past everyone,” he said. “I had a destination: crabs.”

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