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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 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.

By Mike DeBonis  | October 14, 2010; 11:47 AM ET
Categories:  Bob Ehrlich, Martin O'Malley, Maryland Governor 2010  
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I was just having lunch at Cosi's at 15th and K Sts. when Gov. O'Malley and a handful of aides wandered in. He was standing around alone, awaiting his lunch, looking around distractedly, and I went over and chatted with him. I'm a Marylander, voted for him in the last election and will do so again next month, but he doesn't know me. Surprised to see him, I asked what he was doing in DC this close to the election and he explained that he'd just come from the debate at the Post. I asked how it went. His visage and body language betrayed uncertainty. I said he looked as though Ehrlich really pissed him off. O'Malley nodded and shook his head at once, tacitly acknowledging as much. He responded by referring to what he termed Ehrlich's over-the-top disparaging comments about the immigrant rights group, Casa of Maryland. I didn't hear the debate or read a direct reference to the venerable Casa in this blog but O'Malley really did seem viscerally offended by those comments by Ehrlich.

Posted by: cohenmarkp | October 14, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

O'Malley should have asked Ehrlich to pull out the laundry list of things big business wants Erhlich to do for them.

Posted by: jckdoors | October 14, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Would be better if Post reporter was actually up on the issues and cared about his work.

Posted by: bb67chev | October 14, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Anyone will be better than O'Malley who has done nothing for the legal citizens of this state.He only seems to care about the unions and the illegals.

Posted by: webfool | October 14, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Anyone will be better than O'Malley who has done nothing for the legal citizens of this state.He only seems to care about the unions and the illegals.

Posted by: webfool | October 14, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

O'Malley passed out a "debate facts sheet" before they even knew what would be brought up? Pathetic.

You talk about O'Malley being rote, but the reality was (and Ehrlich accurately pinned him on it) that O'Malley spoke in cliches. It is a categorical mistake to assume that your Washington-area audience is stupid and interested in feel-good/sound-good stuff. It's a highly education population with a strong dose of federal workers who do policy-making for a living, they want answers and not poetic crap. O'Malley played to the audience as if they were stupid and that is a huge mistake.

Those watching the debate saw O'Malley try to score points on education only to be firmly rebuffed by Ehrlich holding up a newspaper headline "O'Malley cuts education funding." If you're going to attack then you should cover your flanks. Exposing O'Malley was a brilliant stroke by Ehrlich.

If Ehrlich wins the election, credit this debate.

Posted by: h20andoil | October 14, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

AMEN to webfool and h20andoil, AMEN!!
It is way past time to start taking care of the legal taxpaying Maryland citizens. First by stopping ALL financial aid and associated services, to the illegals and start deporting them as per the law. They will NEVER leave of their own volition as long as they can receive all of the benefits without having to pay into them. That is a travesty of justice to me as a legal taxpaying Maryland citizen for almost 70 years and Mr. O'Malley along with too many others in elected offices and positions of authority should be dealing with and yet the do not and will not. If memory serves me correctly O'Malley was the one that wants to allow illegals to pay in state tuition to colleges, forcing both in state and out of state applicants out of a chance to become students. Oh yeah, that is taking care of Maryland citizens.

Posted by: starrman60 | October 14, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

I don't see how anyone can take Ehrlich seriously after his one (thank God) term as governor.

I'm surprised that the Maryland board of elections even allowed him to run for public office in the state.

Posted by: chucklebuck | October 14, 2010 8:07 PM | Report abuse

Let's get rid of an ignorant myth right now.

Myth: Illegal aliens don't pay any taxes.

Fact: Illegal aliens spend money. Just like citizens or legal aliens they buy clothes, electronics, shop at Home Depot, eat at McDonald's, etc. Unless they're presenting a tax exempt form to all of these establishments or buying Big Macs on the black market, they are paying sales taxes on everything that is subject to sales tax.

So while they may not be paying income taxes, illegal aliens are taxpayers. To imply otherwise is either ignorant or an outright lie.

Posted by: feasors | October 15, 2010 7:44 AM | Report abuse

feaors wrote:Let's get rid of an ignorant myth right now.

Myth: Illegal aliens don't pay any taxes.
----------They don't "pay" NET taxes, because they generally don't earn enough--if they pay taxes at all. Furthermore, any taxes they do pay would be paid by AMERICANS or legal immigrants do the same job. Illegal aliens don't ADD to our tax rolls--they displace Americans from them.

Fact: Illegal aliens spend money. Just like citizens or legal aliens they buy clothes, electronics, shop at Home Depot, eat at McDonald's, etc. Unless they're presenting a tax exempt form to all of these establishments or buying Big Macs on the black market, they are paying sales taxes on everything that is subject to sales tax.
---------Again, illegal aliens DISPLACE Americans from not only paying taxes, but consumption. Unless those illegal aliens are bringing money with them from their home countries, the money they spend here is money that should have been earned by Americans and spent by Americans. Furthermore, Mexicans alone send more than $20 BILLION each year out of our economy in remittances to Mexico. Money which could and should be used to generate jobs HERE.

So while they may not be paying income taxes, illegal aliens are taxpayers. To imply otherwise is either ignorant or an outright lie.
--The lie is to claim that illegal aliens are "paying taxes". Again, they DISPLACE Americans from paying taxes and from consumption. Futhermore, what you fail to point out, is that most illegal aliens who have taxes withheld are doing so under stolen or fraudulent identities, which causes a world of hurt for the citizen whose ID is stolen. Just how do illegal aliens pay for THAT?

Posted by: Ali4 | October 15, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

feasors, yes, they pay sales tax, when purchasing at any type of retail outlet, gas station, etc, simply because there is NO POSSIBLE WAY for them to avoid it, or anyone else for that matter. BUT you and I agree on one part of your comment when you stated, they do NOT pay income tax. You fail to mention that they also do NOT pay any state tax, county or city taxes, and as Ali4 points out, the ramifications of that in last two lines of their comment above. Not to mention the problems that trickle down to the unlucky people that ID's they have stolen. As long as people like yourself continue to stand up, defend or even think that these illegal criminals are not draining the tax coffers dry amazes me. These criminals are depleting funds and/or assistance that should be going to needy LEGAL citizens, that do or have paid their federal, state, county and city taxes over the years. These people are now getting short changed because of the elected officials such as O'Malley, that refuse to step up and cut off all aid, albeit financial or otherwise, to the illegal aliens. Your type of bleeding heart liberalism is what is forcing America right down the path to becoming a third world country. Think about this, how would you feel if you applied for Social Security, Medicare etc, after working a lifetime and paying into it, and were denied due to no more funds?
Well wake up, this is just the tip of the ice berg of what is happening because of these illegal criminals. And YES, THEY ARE CRIMINALS!

Posted by: starrman60 | October 15, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

O'Malley needs to go and NOW!!!! So do the CASA de Maryland illegal alien loving reps in the GA.

CASA de Maryland controls this state. Don't believe it? Go to the MD GA and watch the testimonies. CASA runs the joint. They even bus in 200 plus illegal aliens to "testify for their imaginary rights."
CASA and illegal alien day laborers have actually BULLIED my colleagues in OUR TAXPAYER General Assembly.

"New Americans" What a DISGRACEFUL REMARK!
They are illegal aliens! Owe Malley hit an all time LOW with this one. And that's saying something!

Posted by: roxy1 | October 20, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse

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