Ehrlich does have a primary and it had been getting very little attention, frankly, until his opponent, businessman Brian Murphy, got Sarah Palin’s endorsement a few weeks ago. That at least got Murphy his fifteen minutes of fame. Whether it’s going to be more than that remains to be seen.
And Murphy is running to Ehrlich’s right in the Republican primary when to win a general election in Maryland as a Republican you have to be somewhat moderate, just because of the nature of the general election electorate. The conventional wisdom on Brian Murphy at this point is that he doesn’t have much of a chance to win the primary. But there is some chance that he will get a high enough percentage of the vote that it will be embarrassing to Ehrlich.
Ehrlich seemed to welcome Palin endorsing his Republican rival.
They certainly spun it that way, and I think there’s probably some truth to that. I don’t think you would have seen Ehrlich bringing Palin in on his behalf even if she were willing. It would turn off more general election voters than it would turn on. There hadn’t been much polling that had included Murphy before the endorsement, so there may have been some bounce for him from Palin, but there’s been no evidence that it’s put him on par with Ehrlich or has made the race particularly competitive. It got him some attention, and we’ll know more in about a week whether it got him a little more money.
Along with Palin endorsing Murphy, Mitt Romney has endorsed Ehrlich. How important are endorsements in Maryland?
Ehrlich hasn’t made much of the fact that he has Romney in his corner. And it’s hard to make a sweeping statement about endorsements in general. There are a lot of very competitive Democratic primaries at the legislative level and at the local level where I think endorsements do matter. But in a general election, if you are a Republican running statewide, I don’t know that it necessarily helps you to have a national Republican come in and endorse you. It can hurt you as much as it can help.
What are the most important issues for Maryland voters leading up to the primaries and midterms?
If you had to pick a single issue, it’s job creation, and that comes wrapped up with taxes and spending. Both gubernatorial candidates are talking about those issues a lot. O’Malley has a three-to-one cash-in-hand advantage over Ehrlich, and he’s taken advantage of that, getting on the air earlier. In the Baltimore region there’s a pretty steady stream of ads running about O’Malley’s commitment to creating jobs that feature business owners thanking him for the business environment he has created.
To the extent that he has the megaphone of television, he is speaking more loudly about that than Ehrlich. But it’s a constant at Ehrlich events too. He’s doing all sorts of round tables with small business owners, talking about the environment in Maryland for businesses and the problems they see.
How well is the media pushing back against the candidates’ spin on jobs and the economy?
There are certainly some of us who are trying. But I think one of the challenges of the Maryland press corps more generally is that there are not too many reporters who were there during Ehrlich’s term as governor. It’s more challenging, I imagine, to cover a race that is largely a comparison of two records without having experienced one half of it. It’s more of a challenge to put what Ehrlich is proposing in its proper context; it helps to know what his record is when he is talking about what he wants to do on a particular issue in the future.
Does that mean O’Malley’s being held to a tougher standard by the press?
Ehrlich’s supporters would not agree with that proposition. But I think there’s certainly a greater awareness of O’Malley’s record among reporters.
What has the tone been of the race between these two candidates?