If the slots referendum is winning, why take out Franchot?

Every public poll has shown November's slots referendum is likely to succeed, maybe by a wide margin. Why, then, are the pro-slots people bothering to send around a nasty press release about anti-slots crusader Comptroller Peter Franchot?

Yesterday evening For Maryland For Our Future, the pro-slots ballot committee, issued a news release questioning whether Franchot is saying the same thing in Western Maryland as he is in the Washington suburbs. The e-mail contains a link to a smoking gun YouTube video showing him telling an audience in Allegany County that he isn't morally opposed to gambling, which the slots folks think is a tad at odds with his comments about the "corrosive coalition," "evil forces," etc. of the gambling industry.

The e-mail reads like oppo reasearch from the closing hours of a nasty and hard-fought campaign, replete with links to previous Franchot quotes, legislative records, etc. It's like the sort of thing you might get from the Frank Kratovil or Andy Harris camps as they duke it out over the next week in a neck-and-neck race. Not like the kind of thing you do if you're up 26 points.

So why rock the boat and make the race personal if you don't have to? That may be because the referendum has always been, to some extent, a proxy war between Franchot and Gov. O'Malley, who helped push the referendum through the legislature last year and whose own political fortunes are tied to the success of the vote. Franchot, on the other hand, can win if he wins and win if he loses -- if slots fails, he's a giant killer, but if it passes, he can still look good in the eyes of his liberal base.

Unless, that is, he comes off looking like an opportunist and a hypocrite. That may be why For Maryland For Our Future (a group with strong O'Malley ties) is going after Franchot for his past record of supporting slots (before Bob Ehrlich came on the scene) and other alleged inconsistencies: "By any standard, Franchot has been misleading Maryland voters.  But he’s also misleading the members of his own anti-slots coalition who have accepted him as the public face of their opposition to Question 2…and Franchot owes them an explanation for his misleading and contradictory statements."

Note that the attack is carefully calibrated to alienate Franchot not just from the state's pro-slots voters but also from those who oppose gambling. If the polls are right, they don't need to do that to win on Nov. 4. But they may see an opportunity to weaken a potential rival while they're at it.

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