First the weird. For a while things looked pretty good for incumbent Republican governor Bob Ehrlich. He faced no opposition in his own party and enjoyed high approval ratings, while the Democrats seemed to be hopelessly divided between Baltimore's mayor, Martin O'Malley, and Dave Duncan. Duncan was rising in the polls, and O'Malley seemed to be afflicted with foot in mouth disease, making a seemingly endless series of gaffes that were rapidly undercutting his credibility. But then, on the 23rd of last month, everything changed.
Duncan suddenly withdrew from the race, saying that he suffered from "clinical depression." Some suspect that the real reason was that he was about to be tied to the Abramoff scandals.
Read about it here.
Duncan's departure spares O'Malley a bitter intramural fight and deals a serious blow to Ehrlich's chances. The latest WaPo poll shows him sixteen points behind O'Malley, up from eleven points before Duncan's dropout. [here] Ehrlich also faces a major problem with utility rates. Back in 1999 Democrats had capped utility rate hikes and over the years pressure for raising rates had built up. This year Constellation Energy proposed to raise electric rates by a whopping 72% and secured Ehrlich's approval for the boost. This gave the Dems a perfect populist issue.
The Democrat-controlled assembly recently passed a bill limiting rate hikes and Ehrlich vetoed it. The CW predicted disaster for him, but the WaPo poll doesn't show him slipping as a result of the veto. Instead the widening gap has been almost all the result of Duncan voters lining up behind O'Malley.
The CW is that, now that the situation is clarified, the campaign will start to get really down and dirty -- in other words a typical Maryland slimefest. Russ Smith, writing in the City Paper, predicts:
Both [candidates] will inevitably flood the airwaves with attack ads, and despite the public's purported dislike of such tactics, they usually work. And I doubt there will be much talk about "honor" and "decency" in the months ahead.The other part of the CW now is that all O'Malley has to do to win is to keep his big mouth shut, but knowing Marty, that will probably be impossible. He's too much of a showboat to keep quiet.
Can Ehrlich overcome the disadvantages of his situation? Well, his approval rating is still high, despite the energy embroglio, and O'Malley is something of a wild card. Anything could happen.