- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

BALTIMORE — Maryland Democratic Party officials yesterday expressed growing concerns about how close the governor’s race has become between Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Mr. O’Malley, the Democratic nominee, has had his double-digit lead cut to one percentage point, according to a recent poll, amid growing concerns that Baltimore’s crime and public education problems show Mr. O’Malley is not prepared to lead the entire state.

“I have more concerns about the gubernatorial race than I do about the U.S. Senate race,” said Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, a Democrat seeking re-election. “The governor’s race is a tighter race. It’s always more difficult to run against an incumbent.”

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Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a 47-year veteran of Maryland Democratic politics and Mr. O’Malley’s father-in-law, said he was puzzled by how close the race had become in Maryland, where there are twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans.

“I don’t really know why,” said Mr. Curran, adding that Mr. O’Malley’s campaign is “very coordinated.”

Mr. O’Malley’s lead over Mr. Ehrlich shrank to one percentage point — 47 percent to 46 percent with 5 percent undecided — in a Baltimore Sun poll this week by Potomac Inc.

Another Democratic Party official also said yesterday that Mr. O’Malley’s flagging lead is causing more concern than the neck-and-neck race for U.S. Senate between Democrat Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and Republican nominee Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

During a campaign stop in Pikesville, Mr. O’Malley dismissed the concerns of fellow Democrats.

“We feel good,” Mr. O’Malley told The Washington Times. “We feel strong. We feel like there is a wave coming up. For the remaining days of his campaign we are going to talk about the hopes, the dreams, the aspirations and the positive things that Marylanders share.”

He also dismissed his dwindling poll numbers, saying he was confident his lead was between 1 percent and 10 percent.

“None of that really matters anymore,” the mayor said. “With three days to go, it’s all about turnout and what people want.”

Still, several elected Democratic officials who are campaigning for Mr. O’Malley said they could not “take anything for granted.”

Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, Baltimore County Democrat and O’Malley supporter, said the doubts are fueling the mayor’s campaign.

“Some of that concern that things are tighter than they would like is really energizing people,” he said. “But if [Mr. O’Malley] were 20 points ahead I would still campaign hard.”

Ehrlich campaign officials said their momentum is demonstrated by the governor’s presence in Democratic strongholds late in the race, the infusion of contributions to the campaign late in the race and internal polls showing strong voter support in Baltimore and Prince George’s counties.

Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman said he did not share the doubts and remains confident Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Cardin will win Tuesday.

“We are very, very competitive in both races and we will probably win both races by equal margins,” he said.

Mr. O’Malley yesterday rallied in Bowie, Md., with Mr. Cardin and Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat. The mayor also continued a campaign bus tour, making stops throughout Baltimore County.

Mr. Ehrlich also campaigned in Baltimore County, greeting voters in Dundalk, Md., and stumping in Essex, Md.

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