Ehrlich vs. O'Malley -- Maryland governor debate liveblog
1:55: Well, not much Mr. Nice Guy on display today. The moderator and questioners made an attempt to keep matters forward-looking, and kudos in particular to Mary Jordan for a couple of unorthodox questions. But these guys still don't like each other.
Guess what -- both debates are claiming victory. So how to judge? The imperatives for Ehrlich were stronger than for O'Malley, who leads recent polls. And Ehrlich tried to recast himself as the "serious" politician in the room -- the one willing to propose tough solutions to intractable problems. He reiterated that point afterward, calling this a "serious debate, serious times, serious issues."
Did he do so? He made some headway on that front by suggesting state employees need to move from chronically underfunded pensions to 401(k)s or similar "defined contribution" funds. But the problem is that making the change is not politically popular -- especially two years after a market crash that wiped out 401(k)s across the land. He also ruled out abrogating any previous pension obligations, which makes the change of not much use to solve the current problem. Otherwise, it's tough being the serious guy when you're trying to knock the incumbent off his game with attacks.
Ehrlich, in his opening, also sought to place emphasis on "trust" issues and promised to challenge O'Malley's negative ads and distortions -- referring to the debate as a "confrontation" and later praising the free format. But he never really got effective jabs in on that front.
O'Malley, playing from ahead, was indeed more rote and rehearsed in his responses. If this debate was a play for Washington voters, O'Malley played his advantage on the issues well -- he stoutly defended a rail-based Purple Line and he went farther than Ehrlich on gay marriage, which is a winning issue for him in the Washington suburbs. Ehrlich did try to gain commuter support by calling MARC and Metro "broken," but did not much lay out a plan for improvement. He boasted of a good working relationship with county execs Jack Johnson and Doug Duncan, and now reporters will race to get them on the line and check if that's actually true.
But on what everyone assumes is the great issue of the day -- jobs and the economy -- the needle did not move much. O'Malley continued to argue that Maryland is doing better than average and that proof will be in the pudding of a recovery. Still waiting on that. Ehrlich slammed O'Malley for raising taxes and creating a "hostile" business climate without giving much of an idea of how he would have better managed the budget.
Also of note: Ehrlich may have lost the vote of the Orioles' Ty Wigginton in saying that only a new power-hitting first-baseman could restore the franchise to its glory.
1:00: Going to meet the candidates -- back with closing thoughts in a few.
12:59: Closing statements: "Our country is in a fight for its economic future," O'Malley says. And only the most innovative areas will succeed. Takes aim at "big business, big utilities, big casino interests." Does not mention Ehrlich once.
Ehrlich says O'Malley's shot at casino interests is ironic -- "They're supporting you not me." He pivots quickly to jobs, jobs, jobs. Says Ehrlich "relitigating and relitigating the past" and accuses him of airing "ludicrous negative ads." Says it's time for a "serious leader" in Maryland.
12:56: Rapid fire time. Gay marriage in Maryland? Ehrlich says he's "firmly opposed" to conducting or recognizing. O'Malley says he supports AG Doug Gansler's recognition opinion, punts on conducting. "I think what we need to focus on is protecting rights equally."
Improving the Orioles? Ehrlich: A power-hitting first baseman and a new starting pitcher. O'Malley: "Practice, practice, practice."
Pepco? O'Malley wants "reliability standards" for utilities.
12:50: Another great Mary Jordan question: Say something nice about your opponent!
O'Malley compliments Ehrlich on the save-the-bay "flush tax," with caveats about its progressivity. Ehrlich burnishes his family values cred, giving O'Malley credit for being a public figure: "This is tough, this is not easy. Putting yourself out there, putting your ego out there, putting your family out there ... This isn't easy to do."
We move on to a Matt Bush question to Ehrlich about how he plans to work together with local leaders in the D.C. suburbs. He says he had good working relationships with Doug Duncan and Jack Johnson -- the alliterative county execs who have both now departed.
12:44: McGinty rekindles a debate from the WJZ debate, where Ehrlich accused O'Malley of nearly "playing the race card." Ehrlich says "we have to be unafraid" on the race issue and he is "not going to put up with" being accused of being a race-baiter. In an odd move for a non-race-baiter, he then points out that O'Malley's mayoral administration arrested "hundreds of thousands" of black Baltimoreans."
O'Malley plays nice, says Ehrlich is practicing "politics of division and fear" but does not go especially ad hominem. He does manage to work George W. Bush into his response.
This turns into a Baltimore city schools debate, with Ehrlich calling for more charter schools and O'Malley criticizing Ehrlich for not recognizing progress in the schools. Meanwhile, Montgomery County yawns.
O'Malley with a last shot on the race issue: What about all those black homeless men from Philly your campaign bused into Pr. George's four years ago?
12:39: It's immigration time. O'Malley uses the term "new Americans"; Ehrlich prefers "illegals."
O'Malley says he supports a "path to citizenship." Ehrlich does not, prefers traditional immigration and assimilation -- though he admits a "bipartisan failure at the federal level." Refers repeatedly to the Casa de Maryland affair. Ehrlich playing to his Baltimore County base.
12:36: Bush asks: What if the Reskins try to leave for D.C.? Neither offers specifics -- not really a hot button issue anywhere but in the minds of Redskins fans and some District politicians.
Jordan with an insightful question: What in your background do your bring to being governor? O'Malley starts by mentioning parents, then going to Baltimore for law school and staying. "I have a perspective of both metropolitan areas. ... That understanding of both areas has served me well." Ehrlich also mentions a geographic split: "Part Arbutus, part Princeton is me." He goes on to talk about his days as a bipartisan state legislator.
12:33: A question now about pensions. Ehrlich takes a chance with government employees -- many of which live in the Washington suburbs -- that Maryland should move to "defined contribution" plans (IRAs, 401(k)s) rather than "defined benefit" plans (pensions). O'Malley just isn't going to go there -- at least until an independent review puts that on the table. Many platitudes spouted, and Ehrlich is offering a simple but politically difficult solution. He tries to make that a positive, accuses O'Malley of using "cliches" -- "Leaders lead; politicians give you that."
12:28: And now we go to D.C. specific issues. O'Malley mentions Purple Line for MoCo and a "world class hospital" at Prince George's Hospital Center. Ehrlich says he prefers bus-based Purple Line because "we can plan it, we can fund it, we can build it, and people will use it." He continues: "We have mass transit broken in Maryland," says Ehrlich, citing both MARC and Metro. Big play here for suburban commuters: "We should fix what's broken first" rather than build a light-rail purple line. O'Malley says that a rail-based purple line is better for transportation and development, and that it costs more up front but costs less down the road. Ehrlich raises the prospect of a gas tax to pay for a rail based Purple Line -- gas taxes are a third-rail issue anywhere in the country, of course.
12:22: Ehrlich chides O'Malley and Democratic lawmakers for relying on federal government dollars to close budget. "The spigot is stopping Nov. 2," he says, when voters will be sending a message to Congress. But McGinty asks Ehrlich: Does it "make sense" to make a no new taxes claim in the middle of an uncertain economy? "$32 billion budget -- we don't raise taxes."
O'Malley points out that Ehrlich imposed taxes of his own and aims to turn Ehrlich's negative talking points on him: "You're always talking down Maryland," says O'Malley. "That's bad for business."
With that, the snippiness and the personal animus between the two comes out. Says Ehrlich: "The governor doesn't understand the fundamentals of state government" -- argues tax hikes done during his administration weren't made by governor.
12:15: Pressed by Derek McGinty, O'Malley reframes the jobs debate, saying the state should be judge economically on whether jobs are being created coming out of the recession. He was benchmarks of his own, mentions U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- "hardly a mouthpiece for the Maryland Democratic Party" -- ranking state top two in entrepreneurship. O'Malley is trying to take debate away from the "business climate" questions pressed by Ehrlich.
Ehlich retorts by talking about O'Malley's tax hikes -- calls current climate "tax hell." He comes back with still more benchmarks. Mary Jordan presses Ehrlich on how he would close budget without these taxes. He says: "It's time for pension reform," also mentions realigning state agencies.
O'Malley fires back: "He has no idea how we'd make up the $700 million, $800 million [budget shortfall]." He goes on to do something you'll see very few incumbents do this year: Praise President Obama and the stimulus for helping his state.
12:10: We start with jobs questions. O'Malley reads off a laundry list of accomplishments, but does not specifically focus on Washington issues at first. In fact, he specifically mentions modernizing the Port of Baltimore. At the end, he does tout biotechnology and cybersecurity initiatives, which are particularly important to Montgomery and Howard counties. Ehrlich proceeds to hammer O'Malley for the "hostile business environment," and says that bio tech initiatives were his own. Ehrlich talks about "small business feedback" telling him regulatory environment is hostile.
12:05: And we're off. This is a one-hour debate; a couple of hundred have gathered here at the Post building. We begin with 90-second opening statements. O'Malley won a coin flip and chooses to go second. Ehrlich starts this way: "I want to be governor. Again," says Ehrlich. He hits job loss and taxes right off the bat -- nothing new there. But he moves on to issues of personal likability: "The bottom line to today's debate is about, who do you trust?" Ehrlich thanks the Post for hosting what he calls a "confrontation." He repeats: "Who do you trust? Who do you trust?"
"Maryland is moving forward," says O'Malley. "You have an important and clear choice," O'Malley says -- "whether we look forward to better days or whether we slip back." He moves on to tout his record and talk about things in his second terms. O'Malley does not broach the "trust issue."
11:55 A.M.: The governors have been seated. We are ready to go, waiting for the live broadcast to begin. Notably, the O'Malley campaign has handed reporters a fat briefing book -- "fact sheets," actually. It highlights that both candidates have have swipes at the other's credibility. O'Malley has been particularly aggressive -- his campaign team issued press releases during the WJZ debate attacking Ehrlich's claims. Something to watch for today -- do the personal attacks deepen or abate?
Here's a pic:
11:50 A.M.: Greetings from the innards of the Washington Post building, where in moments Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) will square off with his predecessor, Republican Bob Ehrlich, who wants his old job back. It's the second debate for the two, who already faced off on Baltimore's WJZ-TV last week -- most pundits thought O'Malley bested Ehrlich in that tilt.
The devate will be moderated by The Post's Mary Jordan, with the help of expert panelists Matt Bush of WAMU-FM and WUSA-TV anchor Derek McGinty. You can watch live at washingtonpostlive.com or tune into WUSA-TV.
What to watch for today?
I'll defer to colleague Aaron Davis, who laid things out this morning: "In a state served by two major media markets, one can expect The Post debate to tilt more toward topics affecting the Washington suburbs -- though the issues that have dominated he campaign to date, such as job creation and education, are largely of statewide importance and will get an airing, too."
So look for talk of Purple Line and transportation matters, and less about the BG&E rate hike.
| October 14, 2010; 11:47 AM ET
Categories: Bob Ehrlich, Martin O'Malley, Maryland Governor 2010
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