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Debates? What Debates?

It's been overshadowed so far by the Virginia and Maryland Senate races, but Maryland will indeed select a new governor in three weeks, and yet, neither Gov. Bob Ehrlich nor Democratic challenger Martin O'Malley seems especially interested in reaching out to Washington-area voters. Ehrlich and O'Malley have been squabbling like 12-year-olds over whether, when, and how to debate, and what they finally agreed to was two debates, including one that airs tonight at 7--on a Baltimore station.

The tiresome debate debate has seen the governor insisting that he simply cannot debate after Oct. 15 because he'll be spending the remaining days of the campaign taking his message directly to the voters. Of course, no amount of wandering around the state can reach as many people as a TV debate, but Ehrlich doesn't bother to address that contradiction. O'Malley, for his part, claims that he's the one who's willing to debate anywhere, anytime, yet the Baltimore mayor didn't show up to a debate at a TV station in Salisbury on the Eastern Shore last week, claiming that he had a fundraiser with D.C. Mayor-to-be Adrian Fenty to attend instead.

O'Malley's campaign put out a statement Friday arguing that they hold the high ground in the debate debate because the mayor has accepted invitations to four debates. But it's noteworthy that all four of the sessions he chose to attend are in Baltimore--the WJZ, one for another Balto TV station (this past Saturday night at Maryland Public TV in Owings Mills, aired on Baltimore's WBAL and statewide public TV), one at B'nai Israel synagogue and one at Morgan State University. The only joint invitation outside his own city that O'Malley has accepted is an appearance on Mark Plotkin's show on Washington Post Radio, which is not a formal debate, includes no audience and is not telecast to a large, statewide audience.

Four years ago, Ehrlich and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend had but one TV debate, and neither candidate did particularly well. But both Ehrlich and O'Malley are feisty improvisers and a debate would likely be much more revealing in this race than they have proven to be in, say, the Virginia Senate race.

By the way, last week's final televised debate in the George Allen-Jim Webb Senate race did not exactly light up the ratings board in the Washington area. Public TV station WETA aired that debate, and it got trounced in the Nielsen ratings:

During that Monday 8- 9 p.m. hour, WETA drew but 33,000 viewers, dramatically fewer than any of the network entertainment offerings. Here's the rundown:

NBC's Deal or Nor Deal (WRC-4) - 256,000
Two CBS sitcoms (WUSA-9) - 186,000
ABC's Wife Swap (WJLA-7) - 186,000
Fox's Prison Break (WTTG-5) - 55,000
Two CW sitcoms (WBDC-50) - 61,500
My Network TV's Fashion House (WDCA-20) - 37,000

That doesn't bode well for the slim view D.C. area voters have to see Ehrlich and O'Malley debate. Maryland Public Television will pick up the WJZ-Baltimore broadcast of the gubernatorial debate, relaying the program to public TV viewers around the state.

Of course there is another way to catch the candidates on TV, and that is through their advertising. Both Ehrlich and O'Malley are already advertising on TV and will step up those spots in a big way in the next week or so. But thus far, those ads are running almost entirely in the Baltimore market, which is much cheaper than Washington TV time. The Washington suburbs are home to the single largest bloc of Maryland voters, and while both sides know that Montgomery County will go heavily Democratic, Ehrlich is trying to improve his showing there and pick up substantial support in Prince George's County. Ehrlich is touting the Inter-County Connector as proof of his work on behalf of D.C.-area commuters, yet his campaign in this region remains strangely quiet.

Instead, we get to see an awful lot of Michael Steele, taking out the trash in his curiously captivating ads.

By Marc Fisher |  October 16, 2006; 7:26 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I'll be glad when the elections are over. I've had enough of Steele who choses a dog and a trash can to appear with him in his ads and as a Maryland resident, I' don't want to see the Allen/Webb ads at all.

Posted by: Tired | October 16, 2006 8:17 AM

Just wanted to note that Michael Steele is bringing in boxing promoter Don King, of all people, to campaign with him in Maryland this week. Nice touch, Mike, allying yourself with the most corrupt man in the most corrupt "sport" in the world--and a guy convicted of manslaughter as well.

Posted by: Jack | October 16, 2006 8:45 AM

Steele's ads are less and less captivating. Puppies rock, trash doesn't. Plus he's pushing his victim status (Ben's people are picking on poor me) and he's getting whiney. Its just not hip and cool anymore. It's old. I support you in principle on the debates but....Oddly, I have no interest in an O'Malley/Ehrlich debate. I've seem more than enough of Bob and Kendall Ehrlich for the last four years and I just can't wait till election day when I can vote to put him out of office. (Remember Kendall's tv show?) Enough of Bob and Kendall. On to Martin and the Judge.

Posted by: MoCoDC | October 16, 2006 10:11 AM

Steele has a considerable boxing connection- His sister is Iron Mike "would you like fries with that ear?" Tyson's ex-wife, or I should say one of his ex-wives. See what Steele had to say about it here-

Posted by: kurosawaguy | October 16, 2006 10:31 AM

Mark you must not be watching much local TV because I've seen more than my fair share of O'Malley and Ehrlich ads. I mean we're talking several a night for both sides, including a new one just with Ehrilch's running mate. And I don't have cable so these are only on the D.C. broadcast stations.

Posted by: Adams Morgan | October 16, 2006 10:33 AM

What's amazing is that Steele is operating on the Republican "run against Washington" line.

Uhhh, Michael. The folks you are running against are exactly those that you need to attract.

He seems to have missed the point, somewhere.

Posted by: Catcher50 | October 16, 2006 11:15 AM

I agree that Steele's ads got old very quickly. The pug was easily the best thing I've seen in political ads in years, though.

BTW, k-guy, we miss ya over at the A-blog.


Posted by: Scottynuke | October 16, 2006 11:53 AM

Did it not occur to either of the gubernatorial candidates that actually having a debate in the Washington area, with Washington area media, would be a good idea?

Or are we just going to get the back of their hands and still be expected to vote for one of them???

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2006 12:32 PM

Come to the League of Women Voters Forum, with Congressman Frank Wolf, Judy Feder (D), Wilbur Wood (L) and Neeraj Nigam (I).

Hillary Howard of Washington Post Radio is the moderator. Candidates will answer questions from a press panel and from the floor.

Hyatt Dulles, 7:30, Tuesday, October 17th.

Come early to be assured of a seat.

Posted by: LWV | October 16, 2006 12:40 PM

Scottynuke: that wasn't a pug. I think it's a Boston terrier puppy. Very cute though.

Posted by: Loudoun Voter | October 16, 2006 1:47 PM

Sorry but I just have to vent. I am so thoroughly disgusted with the government we have in office on the Federal level, not to mention the appointees, the latest being FDA and stock options last week. FDA is so important to our health and the graft and payolla is not only dangerous but totally unamerican. We are looking like fools to the rest of the world as well as other Americans that listen and read.

Posted by: Falls Church, VA | October 16, 2006 7:35 PM

Falls Church, VA, our government is far too big and widespread to be controllable. As long as the President is allowed to appoint his "yes" men to oversee Departments, nothing will change. It is too large to control.

Posted by: Govt. Emp | October 16, 2006 8:43 PM

I will be glad when these elections are over. Politicians are liars!!! How can Martin O'Malley manage the entire state of Maryland? Mayor O'Malley has done a terrible job managing in Baltimore City. Crime and drugs are out of control in Baltimore City, and he has had several Police Commissioners. Take a visit to Baltimore on the weekends, and travel beyond the Inner Harbor and Fells Point. It's like being in Iraq.

Posted by: Black Democrat In Silver Spring | October 16, 2006 11:40 PM

For "Black Democrat in Silver Spring" By all means, go beyond Fells Point and the Inner Harbor when you come to Baltimore. Come up to my neighborhood, Hampden, where the row house I bought for 90K in 2000 is now worth $250k. Go over to Patterson Park in East Baltimore, where a remarkable neighborhood rebirth is taking place. Drive down near Fort McHenry in S. Baltimore and see the new $600K townhomes. Sure, parts of the city are a blasted wasteland and public schools remain horrific, save for one or two. But you can say the same about DC.

Posted by: Jack | October 17, 2006 8:49 AM

Dear Jack,

I live in Silver Spring, Maryland, not Washington, D.C., therefore I don't care about D.C. Yes, I am familiar with those other neighborhoods you named in Baltimore City. My father lived in Patterson Park for years, before he died. You are correct, most of Baltimore City is a wasteland. The President of the Baltimore City Council, Shelia Dixon, the City Council, and Mayor Martin O'Malley has done a poor job governing Baltimore City. I feel safer on the streets of D.C., than I do on the streets of Baltimore City. Baltimore has many more homicides than D.C., and their school system was taken over by the state of Maryland at one time. As a Democrat, I am voting for the Republican Governor in office, and Michael Steele.

Posted by: Black Democrat In Silver Spring, Maryland | October 17, 2006 1:35 PM

O'Malley's dropping like a rock, all the momentum is now with Ehrlich. This is gonna be great. I can't wait til Ehrlich's next ad, they are priceless. He's exposed O'Malley as a fraud and a failure.

Posted by: Ron | October 21, 2006 11:18 AM

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