Monday, October 16, 2006

O'Malley Puts Ehrlich On The Ropes During Debate

(Cross-posted from Jousting for Justice)

This weekend one of Maryland's Gubernatorial debates between Baltimore Mayer Martin O'Malley (D-MD) and Governor Bob Ehrlich (R-MD) was played live on the radio. At first blush, O'Malley seemed to be faring well against Ehrlich, hitting all the points, but Ehrlich's brash radio personality had its appeal. It seemed like O'Malley's points were matched by Ehrlich's style.

Oh what a difference the medium can make.

Tonight a debate was televised, and the difference could not have been more startling.

It was clear that no love was lost between the candidates, but any who hoped Mayor O'Malley might let his famous anger show would be disappointed. O'Malley, who is sometimes criticized for letting his mouth get away from him, was calm and poised. It was Ehrlich who was on the ropes the entire time. He pitched forward and back in his seat, rubbed his face with his hand, and looked like it was all he could do to fight off a sweaty upper lip.

The contrast was apparent from the opening statements alone. Ehrlich began by admitting that this election was a referendum on his incumbency and rattled off a list of his accomplishments that sounded more defensive than proud. O'Malley struck a Clintonian note, outlining large themes and talking about how he could use the things Marylanders have in common to help unite our state into action.

Issue after issue, whether it was education, energy, taxes, or the environment, Ehrlich was on the defense. And while the Governor seemed to have a host of statistics at his fingertips, even the most astute viewer could get lost in the minutia. He did not articulate them well.

Even when it came to crime--the very issue on which O'Malley has been under fire--it was O'Malley who scored punches while Ehrlich blocked. In a near role-reversal of the usual positions that Democrats and Republicans take when it comes to crime, it was O'Malley who launched into a passionate law-and-order tirade against repeat offenders and a failed parole system, while Ehrlich sputtered.

This was not the only role-reversal in the debate.

Nationally, it's the Republican party that is renowned for articulating broad themes and appealing to basic values while Democrats tick off a laundry list of programs. O'Malley and Ehrlich turned the tables, with O'Malley continuing to frame the debate over Maryland's future in the context of the challenges we face as neighbors and as a nation, while Ehrlich defended his flush tax.

Both candidates talked about Presidents. O'Malley pointed to the example of Kennedy and Eisenhower. Ehrlich told O'Malley not to blame everything on George Bush.

The Governor's blunt style might have made O'Malley seem too smooth--in fact, twice after O'Malley used soaring rhetoric, Ehrlich appealed to anti-intellectualism by sniffing, "I don't even know what that means."

But Ehrlich's brash personality, which works so well on the radio, did not serve him on television. And it was clear throughout that the challenger was setting the terms of the debate.

O'Malley gave Ehrlich few opportunities to land solid punches. Even during the most heated exchange, when the Governor very effectively said he was going to "tell it like it is" O'Malley turned it around and bludgeoned him with it.

"Yes, let's tell it like it is," he said, before launching into a blistering attack, saying that Ehrlich supported Bush's desire to hand over the port of Baltimore in the Dubais Port deal, and that Ehrlich let Bush pollute the Bay.

Ehrlich emphasized that Maryland pays for Baltimore, and added, "Without us, you're done."

O'Malley didn't miss a beat, and reminded Ehrlich that Baltimore residents are Marylanders--using the comment as an effective metaphor for his claim that Ehrlich thinks of governance as an "us against them" proposition.

Only during the closing remarks did Mayor O'Malley finally give in to the temptation to tick off a laundry list of programs and plans, deftly holding up a bright green pamphlet with his campaign logo on it for the camera.

It was Ehrlich who chose to close on some overarching ideas, like the fact that he had been elected to Annapolis to change the status quo. But now that he's the incumbent, that argument doesn't hold as much weight, and he seemed to know it when he earnestly asked Marylanders to vote for him.

(More Details to Follow.)


Blogger andy k in MD said...

I am sure I am not the first to make the Clinton/O'M comparison, but WOW, Bill would have been proud of Martin last night.

10/17/2006 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Terry in Silver Spring said...

I agree. O'Malley brought forth images of Clinton, while Ehrlich brought forth images of Nixon.

10/17/2006 12:48:00 PM  

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