It took a while, but the marquee elections in Maryland are finally living up to their advanced billing as fight-to-the-finish brawls. When Bill Clinton barnstorms into the state, basking in Democratic adoration as a celebrity without equal in his party, save perhaps Barack Obama (whose admission on Meet the Press last Sunday that he's considering running for president in two years must've given the Clintons heartburn), and whips up crowds for Martin O'Malley and Ben Cardin, that's show biz at its best. Or most nauseating, depending on your point of view.
The former president, who's adept at telling crowds exactly what they want to hear, typified the amping up of absurd rhetoric that's being practiced by both parties ahead of the Nov. 7 elections. In Fells Point on Oct. 19, he said, "The country has been in the hands not of the Republican Party. It's been in the hands of most ideological, most extreme, most right-wing section of the Republican Party." The true ideologues of the conservative movement would dispute that sound bite, considering that they attack George W. Bush as an LBJ-like spendthrift who hasn't given proper deference to the goals of the Christian right.
It was quite a week, with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5th District), perhaps the next House majority leader, causing a ruckus by making a benign comment in Ocean City on Oct. 15 that gave free publicity to Michael Steele. Hoyer, introducing his colleague Cardin to the crowd, said that the U.S. Senate candidate had "a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party," which gave Steele the opportunity to claim Democrats had once again demeaned his candidacy by "using racist terms . . . just because I'm an African-American Republican."
I don't blame Steele for attempting to make an issue of Hoyer's choice of words--you can imagine the media's indignation if a Republican said the same thing about O'Malley's running mate, Anthony Brown--but the veteran congressman issued the obligatory apology quickly and I doubt it'll have legs as an issue. The usage of "slavish" or "slavishly" is common in the English language and has no overt racial intonations; it's not as if Hoyer called the lieutenant governor an "Uncle Tom," as you see on some anti-GOP blogs.
Maybe it was a coincidence, but on Oct. 18 a Survey USA poll commissioned by WMAR-TV in Baltimore and WUSA-TV in Washington, which included 698 "likely voters" out of 900 adults, showed Steele and Cardin tied at 46 percent each--Robert Ehrlich trailed O'Malley by six points--which was the best result the Republican has seen in weeks. Polls are of less use this year than in previous elections, partly because of sheer volume of them and the lack of technology to survey people on cell phones, but it was nonetheless a bright moment for Steele's campaign. It's not as if the appearance last week on his behalf by boxing charlatan Don King was Steele's finest moment.
Meanwhile, O'Malley's camp cried foul when the Republican Governors Association funded and aired an advertisement that was brutal, and misleading, when it attacked the mayor for presiding over a city that's awash in homicides. It was interesting to see how The Sun and Washington Post covered the story, particularly since a quote from an editorial in the latter, slightly taken out of context, was used prominently in the spot. The words, "ongoing bloodbath," (from that editorial) are in the commercial, something that The Sun's John Fritze noted in his Oct. 21 story, but the Post's Eric Rich, on the same day, did not.
Fritze is correct when he writes, "Reasonable people can argue about how much credit O'Malley can claim for recent improvements [in Baltimore], but even O'Malley's most ardent detractors would acknowledge the city had serious problems with crime and education before O'Malley was elected." On the other hand, that exaggeration is similar to the ads Democrats are using against Ehrlich, suggesting he's in lockstep agreement with President Bush on every issue. That's not true: Ehrlich is far more moderate on stem-cell research, abortion rights, and environmental concerns than Bush, and it's a distortion of his record to say otherwise.
The governor, like Bush, is a proponent of tax cuts, as opposed to O'Malley--if the mayor wins, does anyone believe that real estate taxes and the state income tax won't tick up sooner rather than later?--and Maryland's current unemployment rate of 4 percent, less than the national average, hardly shows that he's fiscally irresponsible.
At press time, neither The Sun nor the Post had formally endorsed O'Malley over Ehrlich (although both have already given their nod to Cardin), but the mayor did pick up an over-the-top recommendation from Esquire in its November issue. Although the magazine says the incumbent has "displayed admirable signs of pragmatism," it continues: "[T]he far better choice is . . . O'Malley, who has been a dynamic executive for his city, and will be a national figure once this election is over." It's possible, of course, since the mayor looks like and talks like a politician on the make for, say, a vice-presidential nomination.
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