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'Red counties' a target

May 06, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Though they've been the minority party in Washington County for a while, local Democrats turned out Thursday for the central committee's annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner at the Four Points Sheraton on Dual Highway.

U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, an undeclared candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, took Republicans in Congress to task for their ethical choices. Rep. Benjamin Cardin, a candidate for Senate, took up where Van Hollen left off and gave the group a pep talk.

"If the Democrats are gonna win statewide ... we must do better in Washington County and the so-called 'red counties,'" he said. Those "red" counties, however, include every county outside the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.

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But Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who plans to oppose Gov. Robert Ehrlich in next year's statewide elections, seized on Hagerstown's city election to drive the point home.

"Talk to your neighbors about the importance of local elections," he said.

"Neighbors" was a term O'Malley, the keynote speaker, used with some frequency to relate what he touted as Baltimore's progress under his leadership to his more rural audience.

"Your neighbors in Baltimore are doing much better now," he said, noting that when he was elected mayor in 1999, Baltimore was ranked as the most addicted and the most violent city in America. Since then, he said, the city has seen the largest reduction in violent crime and the second largest reduction in drug-related emergency room visits in the country's top 20 cities.

He spent much of his speech taking swipes at Ehrlich, saying the governor has been moving away from investments the state has made in the environment, higher education and transportation.

"I believe that Maryland can do better" than what he called "the minimalist leadership of Gov. Ehrlich."

And he quoted a couple of Republicans to make that point. One was Sen. John Hafer, R-Washington/Allegany/Garrett, quoted by The Associated Press this week as saying "I was able to get more accomplished in my district when there was a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature." Hafer later clarified those remarks, saying he supported Ehrlich.

The other was Ehrlich himself, quoted in The Washington Post as saying, "when you're a Republican governor in Maryland, you do not make aggressive plans for the future."

"No kidding," O'Malley concluded.

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