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October 13, 2006

Two Peas from the Same Pod?

Roy Meachum

With voting less than four weeks off I find myself wondering: Where are the campaigns?

As usual, politicians appear to be counting on the public's tendency to remember only the last message it hears. Waiting until the last minute proved disastrous for recent Democrat candidates for president and Maryland governor.

Martin O'Malley might have learned a lesson, however.

But then, Baltimore's mayor has little choice. From the git-go, Gov. Bob Ehrlich has been hammering away, as the Republican did against Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Mr. O'Malley's television spots seem less angry than the incumbent's.

But I may not be the best person to pass that judgment: I spend very little time sprawled out in front of the television. A very activist GOP friend once passed the astonishing observation that Mr. Ehrlich and the challenger were virtually "two peas from the same pod."

Their facial features arrange themselves differently; on the other hand they are both dark-haired, physically very fit men married to very attractive women who are mothers to their small children. Neither was born with the proverbial silver spoon; they started off in families once described as blue collar.

On very brief contacts each appears to brim with impatience: they are "angry young men" as the term once was used. That is generally taken as a compliment. In the best sense, their anger betokens an urgency to make the world better. So each nominee's partisans would have us believe.

They accuse one another of excessive ambition and not without cause. Neither staggers under the weight of so many years that a run for the Oval Office can be ruled out: Mr. O'Malley's father-in-law, retiring Attorney General Joe Curran, has been quoted as hoping to baby-sit in the White House.

If re-elected, Mr. Ehrlich will have to figure out what to do four years from now; the governor's job comes with a two-term limit. No one can possibly imagine his quiet return to the U. S. House of Representatives, even less to Maryland's House of Delegates. Been there, done them both.

By coincidence, Sen. Barbara Mikulski's due to face a new campaign in 2010; she turned 70 in July. It's impossible to believe the feisty human being going quietly into the political night. On the other hand, with today's prospects looking good for a Democrat president in two years, she might be offered a posting - U.S. ambassador to Poland comes to mind - that would provide a suitable cap to her years of public service.

Moving into the Senate looks like the best of all possible moves for Mr. Ehrlich, if only to keep the national scene warmed up for his White House bid, as early as two years later. But that would demand that Ms. Mikulski step aside; as things stand, she is virtually unbeatable on the state level. Moreover, he has to win re-election by a significant margin, to demonstrate his attraction is truly bipartisan, in this state where Democrats still have the numbers.

What the other party also possesses is its usual propensity to tear itself apart. Will Rogers once said he didn't belong to an organized political party: "I'm a Democrat."

Selecting Del. Anthony Brown (D., Prince George's) as running mate gave Mr. O'Malley high marks for attempting to hold African Americans in his majority. There was no question Michael Steele, as the Republican lieutenant governor nominee, had drained off important minority votes.

Positioning Mr. Steele to occupy the Senate seat vacated by Paul Sarbanes left Mr. Ehrlich naked in the minority part of the electorate; choosing Kristen Cox appeared a pretty classy save. She's both a woman and visually impaired. Meanwhile, Mr. Steele's name on the GOP ticket can be counted upon to drain votes from the Democrats' normally solid black constituency: how many remains the crucial question.

All but the most solid Republicans tend to believe Michael Steele will not parlay his first African American elected to state office into Maryland's first African American U.S. senator; his hold remains firm on George W. Bush's coattails, no matter the denials. But he still promises to chip away at the overwhelmingly Democrat registration lists and I don't mean only blacks.

With November 7 thundering down, the surveys present an intriguing and contradictory paradox. Martin O'Malley's lead among likely voters is thrown out of skew when over 50 percent of those surveyed told pollsters they approve of the way Governor Ehrlich is doing the job.

Go figure.

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