Owings poised to challenge O'Malley in primary
George W. Owings III, a former state secretary of veterans affairs and former legislator from Southern Maryland, appears poised to formally announce a Democratic primary challenge to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) next week.
Owings, a Democrat who served in the Republican administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), has scheduled a Jan. 6 news conference outside the courthouse in Prince Frederick to unveil his plans.
In an interview Monday, Owings, 64, declined to confirm he is running for governor in 2010 -- a prospect he has talked about openly since last spring -- but acknowledged he will not be endorsing O'Malley's re-election.
"You can assume that is correct," said Owings, a Dunkirk resident who has been highly critical of O'Malley's handling of the state budget. "I will be making a formal announcement. It will be positive in nature."
It remains to be seen what kind of traction, if any, Owings might gain running to the right of a far-better-funded incumbent in a Democratic primary.
"Historically, the liberal side of the party is what comes out in a primary," Owings said. "But I think there's a feeling in this current climate that is going to motivate those who would otherwise stay home to come out. There's a sense of desperation out there, of real fear."
Owings served for 16 years as a Democratic delegate, rising to majority whip, before he was tapped in 2004 as veterans secretary by Ehrlich, Maryland's first Republican chief executive in a generation. Owings was replaced by O'Malley four months into his administration in 2007.
Owings dismissed speculation that he is running at the urging of Ehrlich, who is still contemplating a rematch with O'Malley next year.
"I haven't spoken to the former governor in several months," Owings said.
Asked to assess O'Malley's governorship, Owings said, "I honestly think he has tried."
But among O'Malley's shortcomings, Owings said, has been a tendency to make incremental budget cuts rather than make longer-term changes. "He refuses to take those hard steps," Owings said.
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