Bobby Haircut and the WashPost
The last time I saw Greg Massoni, Gov. Bob Ehrlich's press spokesman, he was bemoaning the decision to have the governor spend valuable campaign time appearing on Washington Post Radio. The previous time I saw Massoni, he was whining about having had the governor visit the Post newsroom to make his case for reelection.
"Why do we even bother?" Massoni said, peddling the all-too-common Republican campaign line about the supposedly liberal press and the purportedly harsher treatment that Ehrlich and other Repos get at the hands of papers such as the Post. Of course, this is largely a time-tested campaign strategy to build up the base by slamming the news media as an anti-Republican institution. And to his credit, Ehrlich--unlike his lieutenant governor, Senatorial candidate Michael Steele--has not hid from reporters (though the governor continues his silly war against the Baltimore Sun, Ehrlich's favorite foil.)
Today, the Post's editorial board throws a wrench in those Republican conspiracy theories about the press by endorsing Gov. Bobby Haircut for a second term. The editorial board is a very different and separate animal from the news operation of the Post, and the endorsement came as a great surprise to the paper's editors and reporters, just as it did to the Ehrlich camp. (Though the idea that the Post editorial page automatically endorses Democrats was never true, and is especially not the case in this election. Already so far, the editorial board has endorsed the Republicans in the races for Howard County Executive, Anne Arundel County Executive, and in northern Virginia's 10th congressional district (Frank Wolf.)
At the least, the Ehrlich campaign will now likely do some quick editing on the slams against the Post that it has included in some of its fundraising letters.
Beyond that, the endorsement's value is open to question. In the Post's circulation area in the Maryland suburbs, Democrats hold a dominant position, especially in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Still, in some areas, especially in Howard and Anne Arundel counties and in southern Maryland, as well as in more conservative sections of the two big counties, the Post's embrace of Ehrlich could prove meaningful to voters who aren't big fans of the governor, but also aren't impressed by Democrat Martin O'Malley's performance as mayor of Baltimore.
One major issue here is the Baltimore-centrism of O'Malley, but also of Ehrlich and Democratic Senate candidate Ben Cardin. These candidates ignore the crucial issues of the Washington suburbs at their peril, and O'Malley has paid less attention to those issues even than Ehrlich. The Post editorial board seemed swayed as much by Ehrlich's insistent support for the Inter-County Connector highway as by any other issue; the editorial gave the governor a bye on his four-year slots mania and his role in hiking college tuition rates by huge margins.
Polling has so far shown O'Malley fairly well ahead, but both sides believe the race is still volatile. What impact do you think the Post endorsement of Ehrlich will have?
9:30 AM UPDATE:
On Baltimore's WBAL radio, the talk station that provide Ehrlich with his most friendly forum, the chatter this morning was about the Post endorsement. Talk host Ron Smith pronounced himself astonished at the embrace of the governor by what he considers a liberal paper. "I thought I was hallucinating," Smith said. "I'm still trying to digest it. It's an amazing thing." Smith attributed the Post's editorial decision to its conclusion that Ehrlich, unlike most Maryland politicians, had paid some attention to Washington-area concerns, particularly by pushing for the construction of the ICC and by imposing the flush tax to benefit environmental improvements in the Chesapeake Bay. Still, Smith said, he would have taken long odds against a Post endorsement of the governor--very, very long odds.
On the blogs, the Post's endorsement is drawing more shrugs than anything else. On Maryland Politics Watch, David Lublin writes that "I doubt that the editorial will save Ehrlich's flagging campaign.... it is hardly a ringing endorsement. It contains plenty of criticism of the incumbent.... While ultimately plumping for another term for Ehrlich, the editorial ironically refutes the central theme of Gov. Ehrlich's campaign in its description of Mayor Martin O'Malley.... Maryland's swing voters are not concentrated in the counties where the Post's writ runs strong. Montgomery and Prince George's are not just lopsidedly Democratic, they are solidly so."
At Free State Politics, Michael Raia argues that the Post editorial board is too enamored of split-party government: "The weakest argument the Post's editorial made was that Ehrlich's party affiliation is helpful to the people of Maryland. The ed board is wary of a return to single party government at all levels, as evident in many of the paper's Congressional endorsements this cycle. But Ehrlich's party affiliation does not put checks on the Assembly, it only magnetizes partisan division and further gridlocks legislative progress."
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