Liberals Pound Maryland GOP Candidate to Help Faltering Dem

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:29pm EDT

( - Maryland hasn't elected a Republican governor in 36 years, but the GOP's Robert Ehrlich now leads Democratic nominee Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in two separate polls, prompting liberal groups to escalate their attacks on Ehrlich's positions on guns and abortion.

Townsend, the incumbent lieutenant governor for the last eight years, trails Ehrlich by a single point, 47 to 46 percent, in a poll conducted by Gonzales/Arscott Research and Communications. She lags Ehrlich by three points, 46 to 43 percent in a Gallup poll. Both polls were conducted in the last week.

Maryland voters have not elected a Republican to the state's top office since Spiro T. Agnew in 1966.

In September of last year, a Gonzales/Arscott poll had Townsend leading Ehrlich in a hypothetical match-up by 23 points, 54 to 31 percent. But her lead has evaporated and it doesn't help that her political mentor, Gov. Parris Glendening, has lost a lot of his popularity.

The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) held a Wednesday press conference to formally endorse Townsend while the Brady Campaign and the Million Mom March held an anti-Ehrlich rally.

"Ehrlich's longstanding record in opposition to sensible gun laws reveals that he is far from moderate on this issue," said Brady Campaign president, Michael D. Barnes.

The state's top Democrats, including Senators Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, also reportedly met with Townsend Wednesday to identify reasons why Townsend is struggling in a state so heavily Democratic and to devise rescue strategies.

"I think the campaign is in major disarray, and part of the problem is it is being managed by neophytes with no experience; and the results show it," Maryland state Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D) told the Baltimore Sun.

Maryland received bad news this week from the state Bureau of Revenue Estimates. The budget has a $400 million deficit. The news prompted Glendening to order state budget officials to find immediate cuts. The shortfall, according to state officials, could balloon to more than three times that $400 million figure by the end of the next fiscal year.

Townsend responded to news of the deficit by saying she was reluctant to increase taxes, but she made headlines by refusing to rule out that possibility.

"I hope we do not have to do tax increases," she told the Washington Post. "It's not part of my plan, and I don't want to do it."

Townsend has already said she favors a cigarette tax hike to boost funding for health care services. Ehrlich has said he opposes tax increases, preferring a four percent cut in spending combined with slot machines for racetracks statewide.

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