- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democratic challenger Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley made forays into each others support bases yesterday, fighting for votes on the margins in the final week of their neck-and-neck race.

“We’ve given people a compare and contrast of the records and people are paying attention now,” said Mr. Ehrlich as he greeted commuters at the Metro station in Silver Spring, a liberal stronghold in heavily Democratic Montgomery County.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election, said his numbers started increasing after the televised gubernatorial debates last month and that he was not surprised by the poll because recent internal polls show similar results.

The poll released yesterday, conducted by Potomac Inc. for the Baltimore Sun, shows Mr. O’Malley leading Mr. Ehrlich 47 percent to 46 percent with 5 percent undecided.

“It is hard to say how close it is,” said Mr. O’Malley, who once had a double-digit lead over Mr. Ehrlich.

Mr. O’Malley yesterday embarked on a bus tour through the Republican dominated rural regions of Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

“It’s all about turnout right now,” he said. “We are campaigning to all of Maryland because we seek to serve all of Maryland. Every vote counts.”

The race has tightened, in part, because of crime problems and poorly performing public schools in Baltimore during the O’Malley administration.

Mr. O’Malley points to the increasing energy prices and higher college tuition in Maryland under the Ehrlich administration.

The Potomac poll shows Mr. Ehrlich trailing by the largest margins in the overwhelmingly Democratic and mostly black jurisdictions of Prince George’s County, 64 percent to 18 percent, and Baltimore — 71 percent to 13 percent.

Democratic politicians in Prince George’s County say polls under-report black voter support for Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and the first black elected statewide in Maryland.

However, they say, Mr. Ehrlich will not garner the same underground support.

“I don’t think they have the same sentiment with [Mr. Ehrlich] at all,” said Mount Rainier Mayor Malinda Miles, a Democrat who said Mr. Steele’s popularity defies the polls.

Prominent black Democrats in Prince George’s County, including former County Executive Wayne K. Curry and five County Council members, bucked their party to endorse Mr. Steele this week but still backed Mr. O’Malley. The Democratic candidate for Senate is Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 10-term congressman who is white.

Mr. Ehrlich told The Washington Times the internal polls also show increasing support in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, with him taking at least 30 percent of the vote in Prince George’s.

However, Mr. Ehrlich conceded he will not carry those Democratic strongholds.

He was joined yesterday by wife Kendel, running mate Kristen Cox and attorney general candidate Scott L. Rolle, now Frederick County state’s attorney.

An Ehrlich campaign official said the governor is confident of solid support in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore without intensive campaigning.

In the final days of the race, Mr. Ehrlich will adhere to the traditional Maryland tactic of focusing on heavily populated jurisdictions in the state’s central region: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Mr. Ehrlich said voters have been saying “yes” to the fundamental political question posed by his campaign staffers: “Is the state better off than it was four years ago?”

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