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The Debate On Debates


The debate over debates has begun -- and Maryland voters could wind up seeing a lot more of their gubernatorial hopefuls than four years ago.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) wrote last week to his Democratic challenger, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, proposing "a series" of debates in the two months leading up to the November election.

It's unclear how long a series Ehrlich had in mind. But the O'Malley camp responded with a suggestion for five debates between the mayor and governor and another two between their running mates, Del. Anthony G. Brown (D-Prince George's) and Ehrlich's disabilities secretary, Kristen Cox.

"We would also hope that the governor would agree to participate in several forums with the mayor," said a letter from O'Malley's campaign manager, Josh White, to Ehrlich's campaign manager, Bo Harmon.

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said today that her campaign "will certainly look at what he's proposing" and that she expects the candidates' senior aides to negotiate a schedule.

En route to his 2002 election, Ehrlich debated then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) debated only once, and their running mates never squared off in a televised event.

But this cycle, both candidates have an incentive for stage time with the other. O'Malley is the challenger, and debates give gubernatorial challengers a chance to look gubernatorial. Ehrlich, meanwhile, is trailing in the polls, and debates give a candidate who is behind a chance to shake up the race.

"These debates should be substantive and conversational , giving voters a chance to go beyond sound bites and learn about how we intend to confront the challenges this state faces," Ehrlich wrote in his letter to O'Malley. "We owe the voters frequent, meaningful debates in a number of venues across the state."

"Martin O'Malley and Anthony Brown look forward to comparing Bob Ehrlich's record of standing with George Bush and the narrow special interests against their vision of fighting for Maryland families," O'Malley spokesman Hari Sevugan said today, offering what seemed a likely preview of his boss's rhetoric once the candidates take stage.

By John Wagner  |  July 24, 2006; 3:26 PM ET
Categories:  Governor  
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