- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

Facing only a handful of challengers with virtually no name recognition, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is kick-starting his 2010 re-election campaign, sending out fundraising letters, setting lofty goals beyond his current term, and eyeing a possible rematch with former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich.

Although Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, says he will not be making an official announcement until next year, the 46-year-old Rockville native is not denying his intentions to run for Maryland’s top post a second time.

“I expect to work as hard and campaign as vigorously as I did during my first campaign for governor,” Mr. O’Malley said in a May 22 fundraising letter, sent to contributors to his 2006 gubernatorial campaign. “I don’t take anything or anyone for granted.”

Touting his personal reluctance to enter political life, Mr. O’Malley said in the letter that it was ironic that he would choose the path of running for mayor of Baltimore in 1999 and subsequently for governor in 2006.

“I am much more comfortable sitting alone with a book or a guitar than I am at formal functions. But I am motivated by the belief that I can make Maryland a stronger, better place,” he said.

The plea for campaign cash also comes within weeks of Mr. O’Malley publicly announcing a series of ambitious goals that he hopes to achieve well beyond the conclusion of his term in January 2011. Some of the goals include ending child hunger in Maryland by 2015, increasing transit ridership annually by 10 percent, and creating or saving 250,000 jobs by 2012.

Mr. O’Malley says it is good to have ambitious goals that his administration can strive to complete, but some analysts say he has more pragmatic concerns in mind.

“It sounds to me that he’s starting his campaign, and lofty goals are certainly a part of that,” said James Gimpel, a political science professor at the University of Maryland at College Park. “Now is typically the time for an incumbent to do these sorts of things.”

Other analysts say that a lagging economy and the apparent implosion of some issues championed by Mr. O’Malley, such as the legalization of slot machines and an increase in state sales and income taxes, has prompted the governor to reintroduce himself to Maryland voters.

“The fact is he has overseen a lot of things Marylanders view as complete failures, slot machines being a good example and tax increases being another,” said Richard E. Vatz, a professor of political rhetoric at Towson University.

In February, a state commission received bids to install about 6,500 slot machines, less than half the number the state had predicted when the devices were legalized by voters in 2008. And on May 13, state officials announced that about one-third of the state’s millionaires had disappeared from Maryland’s tax rolls, which helped push tax collections down about 17 percent in April.

But the move to get a head start on the competition may also be due to the fact that there isn’t much to begin with. Only one Maryland Republican, Baltimore County Republican Central Committee member Mike Pappas, has officially put his name in contention. Mr. Pappas, a former paramedic who is now a lawyer for the construction industry, turned heads in Annapolis earlier this year by threatening to sue over a move by the General Assembly to divert money from a public campaign-finance fund.

The fact that Mr. Pappas is an unknown in statewide politics has many Republican insiders predicting that Mr. O’Malley will eye Mr. Ehrlich, whom he defeated by more than six percentage points in the 2006 election, as his key challenger.

Mr. Ehrlich has been mum on whether he will run on the GOP ticket, and Henry Fawell, his former press secretary, who now works at Mr. Ehrlich’s Baltimore-based law firm, said he won’t come to a decision for several months.

Larry Hogan, who served as a Cabinet member for Mr. Ehrlich during his tenure as governor, said it is “more than obvious” Mr. O’Malley is gearing for a rematch, citing a frequent O’Malley habit of touting gains he has made versus those of “the previous administration.”

“Every single time [Mr. O’Malley] opens his mouth these days, he takes a shot at Bob Ehrlich for something; I wonder why that is,” Mr. Hogan said. “The fact remains that Bob represents the Maryland GOP’s best chance, and that has Mr. O’Malley scared out of his wits.”

Mr. Ehrlich’s indecision, however, is making state Republican officials impatient. Maryland Republican Party Chairman James Pelura III said it would “ease a lot of minds” if Mr. Ehrlich would make up his mind soon.

“I want Bob to decide what he’s going to do,” he said. “The longer he waits, the harder it is for these folks in the party who want to run to get themselves out.”

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