ANNAPOLIS-Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley is expected to formally announce his candidacy for governor of Maryland Wednesday evening, marking an unusually early — and contentious — start to an election still more than a year away.
“It’s the right time to make this critical announcement,” O’Malley’s campaign manager, Jonathan Epstein, said. He promised that O’Malley would “layout his vision for Maryland” in his announcement, but declined to reveal details, saying it was best for the 42-year-old mayor to speak for himself.
But even before O’Malley’s scheduled swing Wednesday through the Washington suburbs prior to his scheduled announcement later in the evening in Baltimore’s Patterson Park, his likely opponent in the Democratic primary, Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, unleashed a two-page flier savaging O’Malley’s record in Baltimore.
“Baltimore is still plagued by homicides, has the worst performing schools in the state, and the highest property taxes in Maryland,” the Duncan flier said.
The document is notable not only because Duncan has himself not yet officially announced his candidacy, but also because its harsh tone foreshadows a Democratic primary campaign that could be every bit as tough as the general election against the presumptive Republican nominee, incumbent Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Ehrlich received an unexpected political pat on the back Monday from Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, a major donor to Democratic campaigns, who placed a full page ad in The (Baltimore) Sun thanking the GOP governor for his support in Angelos’ dispute with Major League Baseball over the location of a team in Washington, D.C. O’Malley had supported baseball in D.C, possibly with his eyes on the Washington suburbs. Nearly one of three registered Democrats in Maryland lives in either Montgomery or Prince George’s counties.
Angelos told The Sun, “I think basically O’Malley is nothing more than a Washington suburbanite who does not understand the city or its people.”
“Personal attacks by Doug Duncan and Bob Ehrlich turn people off,” Epstein, the mayor’s campaign manager, responded. “Our campaign isn’t focused on name calling, it is focused on moving the state forward and making Maryland stronger.”
The exchange already has Maryland politicians predicting that a tough year awaits all three major candidates.
“I think it’s going to be a vigorous campaign. I donÕt think itÕs going to be a pleasant campaign,” Del. David G. Boschert, R-Anne Arundel, said. He predicted a lot of mudslinging ahead.
The flier sent out by the Friends of Doug Duncan, attacked many of the mayor’s accomplishments listed on the O’Malley campaign website — everything from reducing violent crime to cutting property taxes to public school performance.
The Democratic primary is a year away, in September of next year, and the general election is in November. Traditionally in Maryland, candidates for governor have tended to wait until after the close of the General Assembly session in April to begin active campaigning. This campaign, however, has created an unusual amount of action, and interest, early on.
Frank Kratovil Jr., a Democrat who is state’s attorney in Queen Anne’s County, said he expects O’Malley to do well in the Eastern Shore county.
“I think that he has arguably the most difficult job in the state of Maryland as mayor of Baltimore City,” Kratovil said. “He’s received national recognition for what he’s done there – If he can handle that, he can handle being governor.”
Likewise, Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Worcester and Wicomico Counties, predicted O’Malley would do well on the Lower Shore.
“I think O’Malley has charisma, he has name recognition, he is known across the state and I think he has done well in the city of Baltimore,” Conway said. “It will be a tough campaign and O’Malley is a formidable challenger.”
Boschert, for one, questioned why O’Malley chose to make his announcement now.
“In my opinion timing is everything. Right now people are focused on other issues like the hurricanes and rebuilding the Gulf Coast,” he said. “In my opinion I would have given it at least a year out, but that’s just me.”
Others disagreed, saying that candidates need to declare early in order to begin raising the copious amounts of money needed for a statewide race.
As for Ehrlich, the governor is apparently content to watch, for now, as O’Malley and Duncan slug it out. Henry Fawell, the governor’s spokesman, said that Ehrlich’s attention is elsewhere. “The governor is not focused on that. His focus is on making Maryland cleaner, safer and a better place to live,” Fawell said.