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State Democrats converge on county

September 03, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

MAUGANSVILLE - It's unusual, perhaps, to find such a large concentration of Democrats in Washington County these days.

But while this might be a "red" county, several Democratic office-seekers descended Saturday on United Auto Workers Local 171 Hall on Maugans Avenue to, in the words of U.S. Senate hopeful Ben Cardin, "let people in Western Maryland know how important they are."

The event was the union's Labor Day Rally, and candidates on all levels showed up. Democratic candidates for county commissioner were there. Doug Mullendore, the lone Democratic candidate for Washington County sheriff, was there. Del. John P. Donoghue, the lone Washington County Democrat in the General Assembly, was there. Even Del. Peter Franchot, currently polling a distant third in a three-way primary heat for state comptroller, was there.

The steady rain made it a good day for ducks. And Andrew Duck, who's challenging U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett for the Sixth District seat, arrived with a load of his trademark rubber ducks. A retired military man, Duck said he has a new mission.

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"My mission is to get rid of Roscoe Bartlett and put a Democrat in that seat in Western Maryland," he said.

But the guy everybody wanted to see was Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who's giving Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich a run for his considerable money this year.

Next week's primary will be a mere formality for both, as O'Malley's only rival for the Democratic nomination, Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, dropped out of the race earlier this summer. Ehrlich has no primary challenger.

Now that campaign season is in high gear, so is O'Malley's campaign tone. As he took the podium Saturday, gone was the soft-spoken style of last summer, when he said he was "laying the groundwork for a run for governor."

"Are you ready to take back our state?" he shouted to the crowd's applause. "In 66 days, we will liberate Bob Ehrlich's 'fee state' and become the free state again."

In both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, O'Malley attempted to identify Ehrlich with the Bush administration and its wobbly voter approval, at one point calling the governor "Bob 'I-wanna-be-like-George-Bush' Ehrlich."

While painting himself and running mate Del. Anthony Brown, D-Prince George's, as the candidates of the middle class, he accused Ehrlich of being loyal to "the malefactors of concentrated wealth."

Zeroing in on what has emerged for him as a major local campaign issue, O'Malley charged that the governor is "so blinded by his hatred for unions that he can't see the reality ... then we have a crisis like we have with our correctional officers."

A running theme for O'Malley, Cardin and Franchot, the three candidates running statewide campaigns, was insisting that Western Maryland - despite having less population and being majority Republican - matters to them.

Cardin and O'Malley both made sweeps through Western Maryland this weekend, and Cardin said residents have been talking to him about the same issues that concern voters in the rest of the state - with one notable exception.

The wave of growth that has overtaken the region in recent years has resulted in a challenge to "balance economic progress with maintaining its uniqueness," Cardin said.

The congressman said he and his wife are frequent visitors to the region, and that preserving its quality of life is a priority.

His major challenger in the Sept. 12 primary is former congressman and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume. If Cardin wins, he will face Lt. Gov. Michael Steele in November. Steele has been a familiar face in Western Maryland, and as the Republican nominee, would have a numerical advantage - if votes are cast along party lines.

"Washington County voters are independent voters," Cardin told The Herald-Mail. "They want somebody who can work across party lines to get things done ... I just say, look at my record and look at my reputation."

Franchot used his time to continue his effort to identify himself as the "real" Democrat in the race for comptroller, where he trails incumbent William Donald Schaefer and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens in pre-election polls.

"Both of my opponents are pro-sprawl, and both of my opponents are pro-Bob Ehrlich," Franchot said.

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