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Tuesday, March 2, 2010:

The Agenda

A message emerges from Iraq

Me in dots.jpg"Do you think it was appropriate for Martin O'Malley to travel to Baghdad during the middle of a legislative session with Maryland's $2 billion budget deficit unresolved?"

That question was posed Monday afternoon on Bob Ehrlich's Facebook page. As of 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, 154 of the former Republican governor's fans had indicated they "like this" and 330 had posted comments in response.

This won't qualify as news, but we can report that the vast majority of those 330 thought the current Democratic governor should not have made the trip. As one fan of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. put it: "NO WAY!! He has done nothing but spend, spend, spend!! We need you back! PLEASE!!!"

Ehrlich hand.jpgThe Facebook version of Ehrlich's attack on O'Malley was somewhat more surgical than the original, which came Saturday morning on "The Kendel and Bob Show" on WBAL. Early in the two-hour radio broadcast, Ehrlich said a governor should not leave the capital during a legislative session.

"It's a decision I would not make," Ehrlich said.

O'Malley seemed to gain the upper hand Monday morning, playing up the importance of visiting the troops when reporters asked him about Ehrlich's comments.

"I support our troops, whenever I can, wherever I can," O'Malley said at an event at a library in Annapolis where he read to first graders. "I make no apology for that."

Playing the traditional No. 2 role in a campaign, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) offered harder-hitting comments to reporters Monday afternoon. Brown, an Army reservist who served in Iraq, called Ehrlich's comments "irresponsible."

O'Malley Iraq 2.JPG"As a soldier who's been to Iraq, it's somewhat insulting," Brown said.

O'Malley aides have said from the outset that the timing of the trip was determined by the Pentagon, which covered its expenses.

Beneath the back-and-forth, there actually was something to be learned about Ehrlich's emerging message in this grudge match, which we still expect to become official with an Ehrlich announcement on March 25, Maryland Day.

Ehrlich, it appears, is going to try to portray O'Malley as fiscally irresponsible and less-than-focused on fixing the state's finances. The same message has been floated in other Ehrlich commentary on his radio show and appeared toward the end of an op-ed on gay marriage that ran in The Post over the weekend.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have already cut a Web ad that pushes back on this notion, portraying Ehrlich as a bigger spender than he would like you to remember.

To this point, however, Ehrlich has talked more to the press about whether he can win than why he should win.

Ehrlich was back in that mode during a heavily teased interview on Baltimore's WJZ in which he didn't quite say that he's running -- but talked about his decision process.

"This has been a tough call," Ehrlich said. "When we lost, we had pretty good approval numbers. As a rational person, that gives you pause about if there is a place for you in Maryland's future."

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

'Fragile compromise' on unemployment insurance
Thumbnail image for Maryland Senate.jpg"Legislation that would expand unemployment benefits to more Marylanders gained the backing of two key business groups Monday afternoon and could hit the Senate floor by the end of the week," writes Nicholas Sohr at The Daily Record. "The announcement from the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and Maryland Retailers Association signaled the end of the months-long morass of proposals and counterproposals batted back and forth by business and labor interests, lawmakers and the governor's office."

Maryland among wave of states considering ignition interlock
"The movement to rid the roads of drunk drivers is nearing a watershed as states increasingly mandate the use of ignition breathalyzers for first-time offenders," writes The Post's Ashley Halsey III. "The political will to require their use will be tested this week in Richmond and in Annapolis, when lawmakers consider following the lead of 12 other states where a first conviction results in mandatory use. Ten other states are debating whether to take the same step. The proposed laws face fierce opposition from the American Beverage Institute. The restaurant trade association supports requiring the devices for repeat offenders ... Congress is also considering whether it should push states to mandate the breathalyzers for first-time offenders by withholding federal highway funds."

Baltimore schools group gets 500 to rally in Annapolis
"Hundreds of Baltimore City educators, parents and students gathered on Lawyers Mall in Annapolis to rally against cuts against education funding," reports WBAL TV. "The activists urged their legislators not to cut anything from Gov. Martin O'Malley's education budget. The rally was organized by the Baltimore Education Coalition ... and got together more than 500 people in support of the governor's education budget. 'We've been told by delegates bring constituents here and we brought them in large numbers,' coalition member Shannen Coleman said."

Quotables

"We're going another notch down the slippery slope ... They are going to push until there is one installed in every car and it's set on 0.00. It's a backdoor approach to Prohibition that will shift the entire way we socialize."
-- Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute arguing that ignition interlocks should be reserved for hard-core drunk driving convicts.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Jamie Raskin.jpg"Punishment doesn't work ... That's why we have such a high recidivism rate."
-- Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), lead sponsor of the ignition interlock bill.

Thumbnail image for Middleton mug.jpg"This is a very fragile compromise ... I don't think anybody is going to be wildly in love with it, but I think everybody can live with it."
-- Sen. Thomas M. "Mac" Middleton, the Charles County Democrat and chair of the Senate Finance Committee who led negotiations over an unemployment insurance deal.

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By Aaron C. Davis  |  March 2, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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