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On endorsements, a slight delay to watch the forums

October 18, 2006

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

Readers may have noticed that contrary to our promise of last week, The Herald-Mail has not served up an endorsement of a candidate every day.

We changed our plans for what we believe is a very good reason:

Tonight and tomorrow night, Hagerstown Community College, the League of Women Voters of Washington County, Antietam Cable Television and The Herald-Mail Co. will sponsor a couple of candidate forums at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

Tonight's forum will run from 7 to 9 p.m. and will feature candidates for Washington County Commissioners, state's attorney and sheriff.

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Thursday's forum will also run from 7 to 9 p.m. and will feature candidates for Washington County Board of Education and Maryland House of Delegates subdistricts 1C and 2C.

Just as good reporters know that the last phone call can sometimes completely change a story, we have considered the possibility that one or more of the candidates might say something brilliant that would change our mind about him or her. Or that some candidate might say something incredibly stupid.

We'll watch, then tell you what we believe about local races during the next two weeks. Sorry for any confusion.

Judging from her TV commercials, it would seem that Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has had the bad fortune to be opposed in the last three elections by candidates with no redeeming virtues.

According to her commercial, Capito's current foe, Mike Callaghan, opposes repealing the so-called death tax, which makes it sound as if the orphans will have to split their meager inheritance with the bad old feds.

Not every orphan, however, according to the center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

The group reported in June that as a result of laws passed in 2001, the portion of an estate exempt from tax has been increased to $2 million and will go to $3.5 million in 2009. By then, the report estimates, only 0.3 percent of all estates will be subject to the tax.

Speaking of commercials, those dealing with Maryland's current Senate race may set a new record for lack of content. Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's puppy-love video is cute and makes the case that he's a nice guy, but it reminds me of what I say whenever someone tells me a politician who is otherwise clueless is "a nice person."

My reply: My mother is a nice person, but that doesn't mean she's qualified to be county commissioner (or whatever office we're talking about.)

Benjamin Cardin's first commercials looked as if they were produced by the same people who do discount-carpet ads - quick clips of Steele with President Bush and statements that Steele opposes stem-cell research and "a woman's right to choose."

Steele's latest commercial gets closer to the mark: After years in Congress, can Cardin really change the system in any meaningful way?

Cardin's question ought to be: What was Steele's role in Gov. Robert Ehrlich's administration and how well did he do the jobs he was asked to do?

Readers may remember that one reason that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost to Ehrlich was bad publicity over what happened in her assigned area, the juvenile justice system. That and running a terrible campaign.

People have asked me how I keep track of all the candidates. The Herald-Mail has an electronic archive, but the heart of my method is very low-tech.

At the beginning of every campaign season, I get a pack of manila folders. Depending on how many contests there are, I label one for each race - sheriff, state's attorney, etc.

Then, when The Herald-Mail has a story, I clip it and put it in the appropriate folder, along with any campaign press releases candidates might send.

When election day approaches, I re-read all of this stuff and find that it's easy to eliminate some who seem to have no idea what's going on.

Then I look at those who remain and decide who's best. It is the same kind of research your child might be expected to do for a current events report, except that your "grade" - the quality of your life and the taxes you will pay - depends on whether you select good candidates or duds.

Bob Maginnis is

editorial page editor of

The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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