ARNOLD – Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards was three hours late, but that did not dampen the spirits of hundreds of cheering volunteers who packed a campaign rally at Anne Arundel Community College Friday.
An estimated 1,700 people packed the auditorium for Edwards’ scheduled 4:30 p.m. appearance and most were still around when he finally showed up three hours later, after being delayed while campaigning in Ohio.
“Well, we finally got here,” a raspy-voiced Edwards told the crowd. “And come November, (Democratic presidential nominee) John Kerry is going to get to the White House.”
The visit by the North Carolina senator was the first — and possibly only — campaign stop by a major-party nominee to Maryland, which is expected to vote Democratic in November.
Edwards’ visit was billed as a way to thank Maryland volunteers who have been taking the campaign to neighboring states that are less solidly Democratic.
“We need you, your country needs you,” said Edwards, who was backed by many of the state’s top Democratic elected officials. “We need you to volunteer here in Maryland and to go to other places if you can.”
Judy Bise is one of those volunteers. The Frederick Democrat has campaigned in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia and said Friday that she believes increases in voter registration in those states will pay off for the Kerry-Edwards ticket.
“We are going to surprise people,” Bise said before Edwards showed up.
Edwards last campaigned in Maryland in February, visiting Prince George’s Community College when he was still seeking the party’s presidential nomination. And third-party candidate Ralph Nader stumped in the state briefly last month, after courts here ordered that his name be placed on the ballot as the Populist Party candidate for president.
But Friday’s visit may be the last by a major-party candidate to Maryland in this election: Republicans say they have no plans to bring President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney to the heavily Democratic state. Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, has even suggested that Bush’s time would be better spent campaigning in battleground states.
State Republicans were suggesting this week, however, that Edwards’ campaign stop showed that Maryland is not as solidly Democratic as repeated polls have indicated.
“John Edwards is proving they’re (the Democrats) in trouble in places they should have locked up,” Maryland GOP Chairman John Kane said in a prepared statement Friday.
But Democrats insisted the visit was no more than a thank-you to the hundreds of volunteers who packed Friday’s rally.
Edwards was already scheduled to be in Maryland for a fund-raiser when it was decided to add the rally, said Heather Mizeur, the state director for the Kerry-Edwards ticket. Mizeur said Thursday that Democrats “are confident of our success in Maryland.”
A statewide poll released last week by Gonzales Research and Marketing gave Kerry a 10 percentage point lead over Bush — a narrower margin than earlier polls, but still a comfortable lead for the Democrats. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Another pollster, Keith Haller of Maryland-based Potomac Inc., said earlier this week that “Kerry over Bush seems a safe bet, barring unforeseen events and circumstances,” in the state.
David Paulson, the former executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, dismissed GOP suggestions that the state is in play.
“We don’t need the polls to tell us that Kerry and Edwards are going to win in Maryland,” Paulson said. “But the polls do tell us that.”
And voters like Tim Cureton agree. The East New Market resident said he drove an hour and a half to Friday’s rally, his first campaign event of any kind, and did not mind waiting to hear Edwards.
“I’m not a staunch Democrat but Bush is making me one,” he said.
-30- CNS 10-15-04