- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

BALTIMORE — Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. received the endorsement yesterday of a half-dozen black ministers who could sway Democratic voters in the battlegrounds of Prince George’s County and Baltimore to cross party lines in the election Tuesday.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, stood on a street corner in South Baltimore surrounded by the ministers and touted his record of reaching out to minorities and implementing policies for urban voters, including programs for drug treatment instead of prison time.

“This is an agenda for people regardless of color,” he said. “This is white and black and Hispanic and Republican and Democratic. We are changing Maryland for the better.”

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, the Democratic nominee for governor, said yesterday during his final campaign run that he has stopped trying to win over undecided voters as he focused on rallying party faithful to get to the polls.

“The conversation is over,” he said. “People have pretty much decided. Right now, it is just a matter of mobilizing. There is a certain number of people who have decided that, on balance, I would be a better governor for the next four years, and those are the people that we are communicating to now.”

The ministers supporting Mr. Ehrlich came from churches with tens of thousands of members in Baltimore, Prince George’s County and throughout Maryland.

Several said crime problems in Baltimore during Mr. O’Malley’s tenure as mayor — including the high arrest rates of blacks and unchecked drug crime — drove them away from the Democratic Party.

“Poverty is the driving force of crime,” said the Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative, which represents about 2,000 Maryland congregations. “If Mr. O’Malley spent as much time creating jobs in Baltimore as he did locking people up, Baltimore could be a beautiful city rather than a deadly city.”

Mr. Evans, who organized the event, also gathered black ministers Thursday to endorse the U.S. Senate run of Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican who faces Democrat Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and Green Party candidate Kevin Zeese.

Mr. Steele, the first black elected statewide in Maryland, has with Mr. Ehrlich forged Republican inroads into black communities and has helped make their party competitive statewide for the first time in more than 30 years in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.

Black voters account for a third of the state’s electorate, and as a bloc they can have the power determine the outcome of statewide races. Black voter loyalty to Democrats kept the party in power for a generation before Mr. Ehrlich’s 2002 election victory.

Still, Mr. Ehrlich must fight to win over black voters in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, two of the state’s most populous and heavily Democratic jurisdictions that are also more than 65 percent black.

Recent polls show Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. O’Malley locked in a neck-and-neck race.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani will campaign today in Maryland for Mr. Ehrlich.

Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Cardin, whose race is also in a dead heat, plan to campaign with President Clinton tonight in Prince George’s County. It will be Mr. Clinton’s second visit to Maryland in less than three weeks.

“We’re barnstorming,” Mr. O’Malley said of his strategy for the final three days of campaigning. “We are all over the state.”

The mayor was campaigning on a bus tour in the final days, making stops yesterday in Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Democrats yesterday aired a commercial with Mr. Clinton in which he says, “You have a chance to elect my good friend Martin O’Malley as your next governor.”

State Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah, Prince George’s Democrat, told about 30 O’Malley volunteers in Lanham to go out and tell voters about Mr. Clinton’s visit.

Douglas H. Palmer, mayor of Trenton, N.J., traveled to Lanham to help the O’Malley campaign and said the attacks on Mr. O’Malley’s crime record are unfair.

“Don’t let Bob Ehrlich fool you,” he said. “Everybody knows it’s tough in inner cities.”

O’Malley aides said Mr. Clinton is doing TV ads for only two of the many political candidates across the country. The other is for the Democrat for governor in Minnesota, Mike Hatch.

Hari Sevugan, O’Malley campaign spokesman, said Mr. Clinton is doing the ad because of his personal relationship with Mr. O’Malley.

“He really has a lot of respect for the mayor’s leadership,” Mr. Sevugan said.

Vice President Al Gore, the 2000 Democratic nominee for president, will campaign tomorrow with Mr. O’Malley.

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