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Monday, July 12, 2010:

Wagner
When the pundits look back at how Maryland's 2010 governor's race was won, July 12 could be remembered as a pivotal date.

"Tough Choices," the first television ad of the slugfest between Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Martin O'Malley (D), is scheduled to begin airing today in the Baltimore market, marking a new phase in the rematch between the past and present governor.

Television.jpgO'Malley's upbeat, positive ad about his fiscal stewardship is a more traditional start to an incumbent's ad campaign than the radio spots the governor has been airing that question Ehrlich's budget claims and take questionable swipes at his very loose ties to the oil industry.

As much attention as the radio spots have generated, probably far more people heard about them than actually heard them. The ads, bought only on Baltimore and Eastern Shore radio stations, seemed designed more to irritate Ehrlich than to frame the race.

"Tough Choices" is different. It remains to be seen whether O'Malley is on TV for the duration, but this ad underscores the significant financial advantage O'Malley had at the time Ehrlich entered the race in April -- and is likely to have until November.

Another potentially pivotal date -- and one that is not unrelated -- is Aug. 17. That is the day Ehrlich and O'Malley must file campaign finance reports for the first time since mid-January. Back then, O'Malley had nearly $6 million in the bank and Ehrlich had nearly nothing.

For Ehrlich, Aug. 17 could be a make or break moment.

A weak showing would make it more difficult to persuade donors that his campaign is a wise investment as the race enters the crucial fall stretch, when most voters start to tune in. A surprisingly strong posting would undoubtedly add to a sense of momentum that has been created by a string of promising polls (some with more sound methodology than others).

Ehrlich's m.o. for raising money -- lots of house parties and few big events -- makes it difficult to gauge how he's really doing. Not surprisingly, Ehrlich has told us he's very pleased with how things are going. The whispers from the other side suggest he's struggling. We'll know a lot more in a month.

Meanwhile, some questions to ponder: How soon will Ehrlich take to the air? When -- and to what extent -- might the Republican Governors Association weigh in to offset O'Malley's advantage on television? When will we in the Washington market be treated to these spots? And how crucial are TV ads to this race?

On the latter question, there are credible arguments that ads will matter less than otherwise given how well known the two leading candidates are. On the other hand, one of the more interesting findings from The Post poll in May was that nearly half of voters said they were undecided or could change their mind before Election Day.

It also remains to be seen how much of a factor other forms of media, including social networking sites, will play in this rematch. Ehrlich is pouring a great deal of effort -- and presumably some money -- into Facebook, the venue he chose to announce his running mate.

Kendel Ehrlich, the candidate's wife, chose this as a smart topic for her first solo outing on what had been the couple's WBAL radio show Saturday morning. Not surprisingly, the O'Malley campaign managed to air one of its negative ads a few minutes into the show.

When all is said and done, though, TV is still likely to matter quite a lot -- and so too will the money it takes to put those ads on the air. That is why "Tough Choices" could be remembered as a defining development in what has been a surprisingly shapeless race to this point.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know From Boston

Meeting in Boston, governors look to Washington
Congress.jpg"Governors hamstrung by the sluggish economic rebound in their states and bound to balance their own budgets are pressing anew for Washington to step up with more help, some say even if it means adding to the nation's red ink," writes Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press. "Republicans and Democrats alike wrestled with how to capitalize on a fledgling rebound as they talked dollars and sense at their summer meeting just days into a new state budget year and as the economy shapes dozens of gubernatorial races across the country. ... Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, said that without Washington's assistance, 'the danger of a double-dip recession is greater.'"

It's hard to overstate what's at stake in 2010
"Nick Ayers, the executive director of the Republican Governors Association, offers this preview of what's at stake in the 37 gubernatorial races in November. Between now and Election Day, the association and its Democratic counterpart will be engaged in 'a $100 million-plus chess match for control of the foundation of American politics for the next 10 years.' If that sounds like hyperbole, it isn't," writes The Post's Dan Balz. "The Washington political community is understandably obsessed with the battle for control of Congress that will play out between now and November and the implications for how President Obama may govern in the second half of his first term. But no one at this weekend's summer meeting of the National Governors Association underestimates the potentially greater significance of the outcomes in the states this fall."

O'Malley, Arizona governor share homeland security duties
Brewer.jpg"Gov. Martin O'Malley will be working closely with his controversial Arizona counterpart on homeland security and public safety issues as part of a National Governors Association committee," writes The Baltimore Sun's Liz F. Kay. "The association announced during its annual meeting Sunday that Janice K. Brewer will serve a term as co-chair of a panel on homeland security and public safety issues with O'Malley, who is being reappointed to the post. Brewer has made headlines for an Arizona law described by supporters and foes alike as the toughest measure in the country against illegal immigration."

Other News You Should Know

E-mail from Obama blankets Maryland
obama mug.jpegIf you're a Marylander and you ever shared your e-mail address with the Obama campaign, chances are you received an e-mail Thursday from the president, reports The Post's Aaron C. Davis. "The e-mail, which praises Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) as "a true champion for the people of Maryland" and asks supporters to "do your part to ensure he has four more years to continue his work," follows word on Tuesday that Vice President Joe Biden will headline a fundraiser for O'Malley later this month."

Some candidates for governor are not household names
Murphy LG.jpg"One is a bartender in Annapolis. Another has been imprisoned for spray-painting political slogans on government buildings. A third is a former commodities trader who owns a company that markets Maryland's official state dessert. They haven't held elected office before, but they're aiming to start at the top -- as Maryland's next governor," writes The Baltimore Sun's Annie Linskey. "While Democratic incumbent Martin O'Malley and Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. command nearly all of the attention in this year's gubernatorial race, theirs won't be the only names on the ballot. A colorful selection of seven people -- mainly political outsiders -- offer an alternative to voters unsatisfied with the two main choices."

Notable Commentary

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for o'malley.JPGPost: O'Malley + unions = Not good
"The National Education Association has named Maryland's Martin O'Malley (D) America's greatest education governor," opines The Post's editorial page. "Little wonder. Just days before Mr. O'Malley picked up his award, a new law took effect in Maryland that undercuts local control in collective bargaining by giving a significant new advantage to teachers unions, one they had been seeking for decades."

Rascovar: Slots referendum + Ehrlich = Uncertainty
Thumbnail image for aaslots.jpg"Anne Arundel voters usually favor conservative candidates. But an extra element has been added to the mix: the contested Arundel Mills slots referendum," says Gazette columnist Barry Rascovar. "How the two candidates position themselves on this localized controversy -- as well as the final court ruling -- could have a major bearing on Ehrlich's ability to draw the vote margins he needs in Anne Arundel to avoid a repeat of 2006."

DeFilippo: Ehrlich + Distrust of mainstream media = Facebook
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Ehrlich FB.jpg"Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is doing something decidedly undemocratic in a heavily Democratic state," writes Frank A. DeFilippo. "The gesture may be smart communications but the value of its politics is open to question. What his excessive use of social networking reveals more than anything else is Ehrlich's and his Republican party's total disdain for what they regard as the mainstream media."

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By John Wagner  |  July 12, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  First Click , John Wagner  
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