- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — The 1st Congressional District election in Maryland has Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. backing their respective party’s candidate in a behind-the-scenes rematch of their 2006 race.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, beat Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, by using a strong base of Democratic support in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

But Mr. Ehrlich has used his weekend radio show and his close ties the with the district’s Republican candidate, state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, to maintain a strong public presence.

Mr. Ehrlich and an aide casually referred to Mr. Harris as “our candidate” during an interview with The Washington Times last week and said voters would frequently tell him “we’ll go with your guy.”

State Republicans think Mr. Harris will win the district, in part because it was held for nine terms by Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, whom Mr. Harris defeated in the primary, and because Mr. Ehrlich and President Bush have won by wide margins there in the past decade.

Mr. Ehrlich demurred when asked about Mr. O’Malley helping Democrat Frank M. Kratovil Jr.’s campaign.

“They’ll do their thing, and they’ll run his race, and we’ll see what happens in November,” he said. “I like our guy’s chances.”

Democrats have played down the nexus, portraying Mr. Kratovil, as an independent, law-and-order Democrat.

“This has nothing to do with Governor O’Malley or Governor Ehrlich,” Mr. Kratovil said yesterday. “I am my own man, I intend to be my own man, and I think that’s what the voters of this district want.”

Mr. Kratovil said he is running with support from moderate Democrats and Republicans and has already begun talks with former Gilchrest campaign staffers, though he has yet to talk with Mr. Gilchrest.

The Kratovil campaign featured Mr. O’Malley prominently during his primary run against three other candidates. In addition, Mr. O’Malley was a regular presence last year across the district, on the Eastern Shore. And Mr. Kratovil featured photos of himself and his family with Mr. O’Malley on mailers sent to voters and in dozens of photos on his Web site.

The photos have been taken down from the site in the past few days.

“That speaks volumes doesn’t it,” said Mr. Harris, Baltimore and Harford counties Republican.

The Kratovil campaign said it took down the photos because it is reorganizing the site.

The Cook Political Report, considered a leading handicapper of congressional races, has given a strong edge to any Republican in the race.

But Mr. O’Malley has remained a steadfast Kratovil supporter.

“We would like to avoid seeing the 1st Congressional District become subaquatic vegetation,” he said last week, referring to his concerns about global warming. “To that end, we’re going to help Frank.”

Mr. O’Malley and other Democrats see Mr. Kratovil as the best candidate to win votes from moderate Republicans and Democrats who would have voted for Mr. Gilchrest.

Democratic voters outnumber Republican voters 187,619 to 185,464 in the district.

Though the district includes many rural and blue-collar Democrats, a more moderate-to-conservative group bolstered Mr. Gilchrest through his many general elections but was not enough to carry him through the tough primary.

A general-election victory in November would mark a second surrogate victory in the district for Mr. Ehrlich.

Mr. Ehrlich — who made legalizing slot machines a cornerstone of his one, four-year term — clashed with Mr. Gilchrest after he came to Annapolis in 2004 to testify against the Ehrlich slots plan in 2004, despite the exclusion of a slots venue in Ocean City, part of Mr. Gilchrest’s district.

Eastern Shore Republicans quietly bristled when Mr. Gilchrest was nowhere to be seen in Annapolis when Mr. O’Malley proposed legalizing slot machines in Ocean City as part of his slots proposal passed during the recent special General Assembly session.

Mr. Ehrlich has downplayed his personal gripes with Mr. Gilchrest, saying instead his main focus is on building Republican Party strength and unity.

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