- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

Democrats at the top of the Maryland ticket — Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin for U.S. Senate and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley for governor — are shoring up their voter base by directing their anti-Republican message to blacks, Jews and other party loyalists.

Though campaign leaders are using ethnic-oriented radio and niche newspapers to send the message, the content continues to focus on recent Washington scandals and the dissatisfaction with President Bush and the Iraq war.

“That message resonates with African-Americans,” said O’Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese. “It resonates with the Jewish community. It resonates with working families.”

Arthur Harris, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, said the message goes beyond core Democrats to “all demographic groups.”

“Ben Cardin is going to win because Democrats, independents and Republicans in Maryland want leaders who will oppose the president’s agenda and support new policies in Washington,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the Republican candidate for Senate, has solid support from Republican voters, according to polls, which largely indicate that the race is a dead heat. The polls also show Mr. O’Malley consistently leading Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election Nov. 7, though Mr. Ehrlich has narrowed the gap to less than 10 percentage points in some surveys.

The attacks targeted on Mr. Steele and Mr. Ehrlich attempt to block inroads they forged in key segments of the Democratic base when elected four years ago.

Mr. Steele, the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland, has been credited with garnering votes among suburban women. Political analysts say a black candidate on the party ticket has made it permissible to vote Republican.

Mr. Ehrlich, the state’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years, also has appealed to female voters by selecting Kristen Cox, state secretary of disabilities, as running mate.

Still, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1 in Maryland.

“Steele and Ehrlich are very able and smart candidates, but they are running into a strong national Republican headwind,” said Thomas F. Schaller, a professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “It is almost enough to remind voters that they are Republicans.”

Mr. Schaller said Mr. Cardin and Mr. O’Malley will keep hammering the anti-Republican message. “The tempo and the volume may change, but the tune is the same,” the professor said.

Mr. Cardin and Mr. O’Malley also use nationally prominent Democrats and celebrities to appeal to their base. Former President Bill Clinton stumped for both men at a rally Thursday in Baltimore. Mr. Cardin also campaigned with Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and former presidential candidate, and Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat and the country’s only black senator. Mr. O’Malley campaigned with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat who is Hispanic. The mayor also has NBA star Magic Johnson doing ads on urban radio stations.

Mr. Cardin, a white, 10-term congressman from Baltimore, often takes the message directly to core voters through statewide TV ads and in black churches in Baltimore and Prince George’s County — two of the state’s most populous and heavily Democratic jurisdictions, which also are more than 65 percent black.

Mr. O’Malley attempts to portray Mr. Ehrlich as a Republican who favors big business to the detriment of working-class families. His message has appeared in ads in the Afro American Newspaper, Jewish Times and Jewish Weekly. Mr. O’Malley also plans to go on the Jewish radio show “Shalom USA,” according to his campaign.

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