- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday said Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, the Democratic nominee for governor, is running a “Rose Garden” campaign by ducking debates and relying on attack ads.

“It seems to be a Rose Garden strategy,” Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. They “run the negative ads, hope the national trend is such and don’t put [Mr. O’Malley] out there too much.”

In a wide-ranging interview, the governor said that next month’s elections will decide whether the Republican Party will be relevant in Maryland, where Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats 2-to-1, and that he and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who is running for the U.S. Senate, will “win together or … lose together.”

“I am either a historical … accident, or we are going to be at the midtier of a realignment,” said Mr. Ehrlich, who in 2002 was elected as Maryland’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years. “It is probably impossible to get to a Virginia realignment. But it will be a Maryland-flavored realignment. … That’s what this election is all about.”

Virginia’s General Assembly, which had been controlled by Democrats for decades, has become a Republican-led legislature during the past 10 years.

Mr. Ehrlich gave an upbeat assessment of his campaign, despite trailing Mr. O’Malley in most polls and rising anti-Republican sentiment nationwide because of dissatisfaction with President Bush, the war in Iraq and the congressional-page scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican.

“The one good thing we have found in our polling — to this very second — is that the national mood has not necessarily rubbed off on us,” he said. “We are not immune. We just haven’t seen it.”

Mr. O’Malley has declined an invitation to be interviewed at The Times. His spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese, yesterday dismissed Mr. Ehrlich’s assertion that the mayor is avoiding debates.

“Nothing is further from the truth,” Mr. Abbruzzese said. “In fact, O’Malley is willing to debate from now through to the election.”

An Ehrlich spokeswoman said the governor has refused to debate Mr. O’Malley after this week because he wants to focus on campaigning.

Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. O’Malley have engaged in two debates, neither of which was televised.

The O’Malley and Ehrlich campaigns disagree about which debates the candidates have said they would attend. Negotiations are continuing among the candidates and WJZ-TV (Channel 13) in Baltimore.

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said that the O’Malley campaign wants the WJZ-TV debate to be a “more stylized” forum but that the station’s terms are in line with Mr. Ehrlich’s preference for a “more folksy” exchange.

Mr. Ehrlich yesterday said that Mr. O’Malley’s attempts to link him to the Bush administration have failed. He added that he relishes a comparison of his record as governor with Mr. O’Malley’s record as mayor of Baltimore, which continues to suffer from crime problems and poor-performing schools.

“He has to defend the indefensible,” he said of Mr. O’Malley. “He had seven years to produce, and he has not produced to the extent he could have or should have and that has really helped us in this election.”

The governor also said Republicans expect to pick up a couple of seats in the state Senate.

Meanwhile, political analysts say that Democrats are poised to make net gains in the 36 gubernatorial races on the November ballot as well as potentially win control of the U.S. House and Senate.

Democrats seem almost certain to take the governor’s office from Republicans in New York and have a good chance to do so in Ohio.

• Ralph Z. Hallow contributed to this report.

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