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National Democratic group returns fire on Ehrlich

Aaron C. Davis

That didn't take long. Less than 24 hours after the Republican Governors Association launched an ad attacking Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) for raising taxes, the Democratic Governors Association returned fire on Wednesday with a commercial against former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R).

The Democratic ad paints Ehrlich as a shill for big business, banks and other special interests, both during his term as governor, as well as in the four years since, when he worked for a North Carolina law and lobbying firm.

The dueling independent expenditures mean there are now three commercials on the Maryland governor's race airing in the pricey Washington region where just a day ago there were none. It also shows Democrats intend to return with force to a theme of challenging Ehrlich about the still unknown list of clients he served since leaving office.

DGA National Political Director Raymond Glendening said the group had plans in the works for a Maryland ad, but accelerated those efforts following the RGA's ad buy that began Tuesday because of "the importance of the Maryland governor's race."

"Maryland is unique," Glendening said. "If you graded incumbents on a curve, both [O'Malley and Ehrlich] are in pretty good shape compared to others across the country, but I think people have forgotten about Bob Ehrlich's missteps as governor and what he's been spending his time on in the last four years. When voters have all the facts they will elect Martin O'Malley to a second term."

The ad, which Glendening said would begin airing on Wednesday on networks and cable stations in markets across the state, claims that for the last four years, Ehrlich has "worked as a hired gun for big corporations, even a bank that took billions from a taxpayer funded bailout ... Tell Bob Ehrlich: Big banks and billionaires don't need help. Middle class Marylanders do."

Ehrlich has said the Baltimore law office he ran focused only on legal matters, and not lobbying.

Another part of the ad dredges up the issue of rising electricity rates in Maryland - a topic that doesn't play well for either candidate.

The ad cites a 2006 Washington Post story, saying Ehrlich "let utilities jack up our rates 72 percent."

The commercial's claim stems from a decision Maryland regulators made four years before Ehrlich took office to deregulate the state's power industry. It was supposed to lead to lower costs, but ended up costing consumers more.

When rates were set to increase dramatically in 2006, Ehrlich negotiated a complicated phase-in option that let consumers delay the increase for a fee. Maryland Democrats, including O'Malley, criticized Ehrlich for not doing more. Rolling back those rate hikes became a central theme that year in O'Malley's successful campaign to unseat Ehrlich.

But four years later, still rising energy rates remain a sore subject for voters in key swaths of the state. O'Malley won a one-time, $170 rebate for Baltimore Gas and Electric customers two years ago, and still portrays himself as fighting profit-obsessed energy companies. But he has been unable to push the state toward reregulation and other structural changes he's sought to fundamentally alter consumer rates.

By Aaron C. Davis  | September 22, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections  
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Next: First Click, Maryland
There are facts, and then there are campaign ads

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