Tuesday, November 7, 2006

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Former Vice President Al Gore campaigned yesterday with Maryland’s Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate and governor — Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, respectively — closing out the party’s effort to hold off strong Republican campaigns.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele crisscrossed the state on a nonstop bus tour and received last-minute endorsements for his U.S. Senate campaign from the pastors of two Prince George’s County’s black megachurches. And Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. campaigned for re-election in Baltimore County, ending the day with a rally in his hometown of Arbutus.

Today’s elections in Maryland could help decide whether Republicans will retain control of Congress and whether the Democrats maintain their dominance in state politics. Recent polls for the Senate and gubernatorial contests show that both are dead heats.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Maryland elections also will test whether officials have fixed glitches in the state’s electronic voting system that caused delays and confusion during September’s primary elections.

The final results of close contests might not be known until late this week or next week, because voters have requested nearly 200,000 absentee ballots, which elections officials will begin counting Thursday.

An Anne Arundel County judge late yesterday denied a request by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups to extend the deadline for voters to postmark absentee ballots. The ACLU filed a last-minute lawsuit, saying that some voters didn’t receive their ballots in time to meet the deadline.

“If anybody tells you that one vote doesn’t matter, tell them to come and talk to me,” Mr. Gore said during a rally at Leisure World, a retirement community in Aspen Hill that is the state’s largest voter precinct. “It matters more than perhaps it ever has.”

Mr. Gore, who lost the 2000 presidential election to President Bush after weeks of recounts in Florida, said Mr. Cardin’s contest with Mr. Steele “is going to be looked at all across the nation.”

“This is about more than a Senate seat in Maryland,” said Mr. Cardin, a 10-term congressman from Baltimore. “It’s about taking back our country.”

Mr. O’Malley called the Ehrlich administration a “detour” in the state’s progress.

“In just 24 hours, we will be making a very important decision about whether we are a state that moves forward,” he said.

In Landover, Mr. Steele stood with several black clergymen and received an endorsement from the Rev. Joel Peebles of Jericho City of Praise in Landover — one of the largest churches in the state, with about 15,000 members and a weekly attendance of about 7,500.

Mr. Peebles said Mr. Steele “is the right person for the right job for the U.S. Senate seat.”

Mr. Steele said that Bishop Anthony G. Maclin of the Sanctuary at Kingdom Square in Capitol Heights “is standing with us,” even though Mr. Maclin did not attend the press conference. Mr. Maclin’s church has a weekly attendance of about 2,000.

“I am ready to take that seat in the United States Senate,” said Mr. Steele, the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland.

In the gubernatorial race, Mr. Ehrlich held a late-afternoon “countdown to victory rally” in his hometown of Arbutus, a blue-collar town in southwestern Baltimore County.

“We have a lot of Democrats here,” said Mr. Ehrlich, who was joined on stage by former Democratic Gov. Marvin Mandel. “One Maryland — Republican, Democrat, independent, Green — it doesn’t matter. Send a message to Annapolis: Stop the shenanigans.”

Late yesterday, state Democrats decried a flier that depicts Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, among other black Democrats, as supporting Mr. Steele and Mr. Ehrlich.

“I resent that my picture is being used in something that’s not true,” Mr. Johnson said. “Everyone knows I’m supporting the Democratic ticket.”

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said the flier, which was sent to Prince George’s residents, was “recognition of the bipartisan relationship that has existed between Governor Ehrlich and Prince George’s County officials these past four years.”

The closeness of Maryland’s races has befuddled national observers. Maryland is an overwhelmingly Democratic state, and the national mood is virulently anti-Republican.

Mr. Steele and Mr. Ehrlich have made inroads into the black community, which makes up about 30 percent of the state’s Democratic Party.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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