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O'Malley, Duncan break early on 2006 campaign

The next election for Maryland governor is two years away, but you'd never know it by the travel schedules of the two leading Democrats interested in unseating Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

As the City Council was finalizing Baltimore's budget one night last month, Mayor Martin O'Malley was winging off to Garrett County to make a speech. In May, he made three appearances in Montgomery County in two weeks.

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The Washington-area politician viewed as O'Malley's chief rival for the Democratic nomination - Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan - has also been on the move. Last month, he made four visits to Prince George's County, three to Baltimore and two to the Eastern Shore.

"It's never too early to run for office," said Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party. "Of all the resources in campaigns, time is the most precious. You can never find enough. Election Day is a drop-dead day. You can't move it."

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Neither O'Malley nor Duncan has formally declared his intention to run for governor. Both say they travel a lot because Democratic clubs around Maryland want to hear from them - as two high-profile state leaders, not necessarily as potential gubernatorial candidates.

"For as long as I've been at this, I've been doing party events," O'Malley said. "Sometimes we underestimate in the city how interested in Baltimore people are."

O'Malley's brother and campaign manager, Peter O'Malley, said the mayor is a highly sought-after speaker.

"He's the most popular Democrat in the state and also the most dynamic speaker in the state, and they want to see him," Peter O'Malley said. "We don't seek out these invitations. They're looking to sell tickets, and Martin's a real draw."

Duncan spokesman David S. Weaver said the executive has been responding to a flood of invitations from Democrats eager for their party to regain the top job in Annapolis.

"These Democratic clubs, they're hungry for somebody to come talk to them about how to take back the State House, how to change the direction the state's going," Weaver said.

Many also want to hear from Duncan because he has been an outspoken opponent of slots, Weaver said. Ehrlich wants to bring slots to Maryland, and O'Malley has said he is not opposed to doing so.

Testing the waters

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But Duncan acknowledged that he is testing the waters for a possible run as he travels around Maryland. "I am getting around the state, talking to people to find out what interest is out there," he said.

O'Malley and Duncan considered running for governor in 2002, before stepping aside for former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. They've been campaigning ever since.

Political scientists chalk up the early start to several factors: the strength of the incumbent governor; the credibility of O'Malley and Duncan as candidates; and the angst of a Democratic majority tossed out of the governor's mansion for the first time in a generation.

"I think it's perfectly understandable," said John Bambacus, a former Frostburg mayor and Republican state senator who teaches political science at Frostburg State University. "You have two very well-qualified, very credible, potential primary opponents who are interested in taking the governorship away from a Republican. That's a formidable task.

"You have the power of an incumbent governor who appears to be doing fairly well in the polls. Any day somebody picks up a newspaper, there's going to be some article about what the governor's doing. O'Malley and Duncan don't have that, statewide anyway. They're going to get covered in The Sun and in The Washington Post, but they're not going to get covered up here."

Republicans' view

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GOP officials have their take on the peripatetic politicians.

"If you really look at it, these eager jaunts around the state may actually help Republicans when the rest of state gets to see what the Maryland Democratic Party has to offer," said Deborah Martinez, spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party.

As they travel around the state, Duncan and O'Malley are finding out how their standard stump speeches play off their home turf.

O'Malley often notes that average home values in the city have doubled to about $120,000. In Baltimore, the line gets applause. In Montgomery County, it gets laughs.

"You're going to have trouble finding a parking place for [$120,000] in some places in Montgomery County," said County Councilman Tom Perez, who heard O'Malley speak June 1 in Cabin John. "It got people chuckling."

2 1/2 pages of events

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Asked about Duncan's recent travel, his office released a 2 1/2 -page list of Maryland events - 60 of them, from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore - that he has attended outside his county since last summer. Included were fish fries, church services, women's club luncheons, a picnic in Southern Maryland in September, and a gala fund-raiser in Baltimore last week for presidential hopeful John Kerry.

Peter O'Malley said his brother's travel schedule has not picked up recently. Asked about out-of-city campaign appearances, he provided a list of 12 between August 2001 and last week.

"I may have missed one or two, but it's a pretty comprehensive list going back to 2001," he said.

But O'Malley has been busier than the list suggests. Appearances that are considered part of O'Malley's role as mayor, as opposed to campaign events, were not included.

Among those not listed was a June 14 meeting with the Montgomery County Civic Federation, where O'Malley presented CitiStat, his computerized system for tracking governmental efficiency.

Fund-raiser

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The next day, he returned to the county for a fund-raiser featuring Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Two weeks earlier, he met with Montgomery Democrats at a home in Cabin John.

Then late last month, O'Malley's campaign shelled out $1,000 to fly him to Garrett County for the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner put on by county Democrats. He couldn't make the 3 1/2 -hour ride by car because - on short notice - the City Council scheduled a meeting to finalize the budget that night.

O'Malley stuck around City Hall until about 6 p.m., when the Board of Estimates, which he controls, approved the $2.1 billion spending plan.

Off to Garrett County

Two hours later, before the council had taken its final vote on the budget, the mayor was shaking hands at the Wisp Deep Creek Mountain Resort in McHenry.

Doris Goldsborough, co-chairwoman of the dinner, assumed that O'Malley made the trip because he has his eye on Annapolis. She said the mayor made a good impression on the 200 people at the dinner, just as Duncan did at an event there last summer.

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"They said they would like to see [O'Malley] up here again," Goldsborough said. "Of course, we like Doug Duncan, too. We hope to have him at [our] picnic in August."


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