- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

BALTIMORE — Critics of Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley’s run for governor say his campaign is out of fresh ideas.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, the mayor’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination, has accused Mr. O’Malley of mimicking his proposals for prescription drug discount cards and local tax relief, his support for stem-cell research, and his measures against pollution.

Maryland Republican Party Chairman John M. Kane said Mr. O’Malley’s plan for a tax holiday on energy-efficient appliances is a “copycat version” of a failed Senate bill this year in the General Assembly.

“Martin O’Malley should not be plagiarizing other people’s work,” Mr. Kane said. “Independent-minded voters know that if he were truly committed to solving Baltimore’s energy issues, he would immediately repeal his 4 percent energy tax that hurts the people of the city.”

Mr. O’Malley remains the front-runner in the September primary contest that will decide who faces Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, in the November general election, although Mr. Duncan has made gains in recent polls.

Mr. O’Malley has replaced campaign manager Jonathan A. Epstein with Josh White, a former executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party. An O’Malley campaign spokesman said neither flagging poll numbers nor recent criticisms influenced the move. “We made this decision from a position of strength, not a position of weakness,” spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

He noted that Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government honored Mr. O’Malley’s CitiStat program with the 2004 Innovations in American Government Award. He also leveled one of the campaign’s first attacks on Mr. Duncan.

“Doug Duncan has wholeheartedly adopted policies of developers that have led to out-of-control growth, congestion and sprawl [in Montgomery County]. That says it all,” he said.

Pollster Patrick Gonzales yesterday said Mr. Duncan poses a threat to Mr. O’Malley, especially if the mayor continues to ignore his opponent’s attacks.

His polling firm, the nonpartisan Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies, conducted a survey last month that showed Mr. O’Malley leading Mr. Duncan 44 percent to 35 percent. Mr. O’Malley led by about 20 percentage points earlier this year.

“It is still a contest that I think will be decided in September,” Mr. Gonzales said. “O’Malley is the front-runner, but he hasn’t closed the deal yet.”

He said Mr. O’Malley’s strategy of not engaging Mr. Duncan could result in a primary upset, as it did when front-runner Helen Delich Bentley lost the Republican gubernatorial nomination to Ellen R. Sauerbrey in 1994. “The political landscape is littered with primary candidates who have ignored their opponent,” he said.

Towson University political science professor Richard E. Vatz said Mr. O’Malley’s “stable support” makes him hard to beat unless he suffers a major scandal or political crisis.

“I don’t see [Mr. Duncan] catching up. The polls don’t impress me,” Mr. Vatz said. “I don’t think O’Malley has the lead he did months ago, but it is still O’Malley’s to lose.”

The support for Mr. O’Malley was evident last month in a straw poll conducted during the Western Maryland Democratic Summit at Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort. Mr. O’Malley reportedly collected 108 votes to Mr. Duncan’s 52.

Mr. Vatz discounted the effectiveness of criticizing Mr. O’Malley for copying the ideas of others. “I don’t know of any precedent for where you turn an election around by arguing your opponent stole your ideas,” he said.

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