Two of Maryland's fiercest political rivals, Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., stocked their campaign arsenals with cash yesterday - with O'Malley taking in more than $2 million at a fund-raiser that aides called the largest event of its kind in state history.
O'Malley told more than 1,000 donors at M&T; Bank Stadium that Baltimore's progress on education, crime and housing should be a model for the state, although he stopped short of declaring his candidacy for the Democratic nomination or mentioning Ehrlich by name.
"There is left to us a new battle," the mayor said. "And it is a battle in whose balance hangs the balance of Maryland, a potential powerhouse of a state, a state whose future ... is threatened by the icy, minimalist indifference by those who say to a free, to a diverse and to a courageous people, 'This far can you go, and no further.'"
Earlier in the day, Ehrlich, a Republican, presided over a $100,000 golf outing at the exclusive Elkridge Club on North Charles Street in Baltimore. Players paid $1,000 to take part in the shotgun-start tournament.
Together, the events portend what is expected to be the costliest election year in Maryland history. Political experts say Ehrlich could raise $20 million for his re-election bid, and the open U.S. Senate seat created by Paul S. Sarbanes' announced retirement could cost a combined $30 million for the Democratic and Republican nominees.
A possible record
Fund raising is often used as an early indicator of success, but candidates don't need to win the cash contest outright, said Annapolis-based pollster Patrick Gonzales.
"A candidate has to have enough money to get the job done, but message trumps money any day of the week," Gonzales said.
Still, O'Malley allies were eager to remark on the significance of the mayor's tally last night, saying it was unusual for challengers to raise so much with a primary election 15 months away.
O'Malley campaign manager Jonathan Epstein said the mayor's event surpassed the previous high for a state candidate, $1.8 million raised by Ehrlich in fall 2002.
"Bob Ehrlich did that with a sitting president four weeks before the election," Epstein said, noting that President Bush was a featured speaker at Ehrlich's function while O'Malley had no such notable guest last night.
"No one raises $2 million in a night," Epstein said.
The mayor's fund-raising total from last night will be verified when the campaign files finance statements with the state Board of Elections next year.
Scott Arcenaux, campaign manager for Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, said the other leading potential Democratic candidate for governor would not be eclipsed in the dash for dollars.
"The campaign finance reports filed earlier this year made clear that Doug Duncan is winning the early money primary," Arcenaux said in a statement. "He reported more cash on hand than his likely Democratic primary opponent and continues to aggressively raise funds across the state. ... We intend to be very competitive in the fund-raising arena and will have what it takes to get Doug's message out."
'We're on a roll'
Ehrlich fund-raising chief John Reith said yesterday's golf outing was one of a series of events planned for the governor that have been increasing in frequency since the end of the legislative session in April and the subsequent bill-signing and veto ceremonies.
"We're on a roll," Reith said, adding that an event featuring first lady Laura Bush would be the governor's next major function.
An avid and accomplished golfer, Ehrlich did not play yesterday, but was on hand for photographs with players, according to Reith and Ehrlich press secretary Greg Massoni.
Media members were not allowed to view the golf tournament; a reporter who visited the club yesterday afternoon was asked to leave.
Reith said that the club charged the Ehrlich re-election campaign about $175 per player for food, beverages and greens fees, but club officials would not confirm the amount.
"It's not information I can share with you," said Lee Pavlas, clubhouse manager at Elkridge. "Being a private club, we are very discreet about everything."
Ehrlich and O'Malley are not the only politicians looking to boost their bottom lines before the summer holidays. Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume, the former NAACP chief, launched a grass-roots fund-raising drive last weekend, asking supporters to find 10 friends to contribute $10 each to his campaign.
"Our effort is to try to motive 300,000 people to give," Mfume told a gathering in Montgomery County on Saturday. "We are going to have more contributors in this campaign than anybody else."
An early lead
The most recent campaign finance reports, released in January, showed Ehrlich with more money than of his potential Democratic rivals.
The governor and lieutenant governor had $5.1 million in available cash in their accounts, while Duncan had $1.5 million and O'Malley about $1 million.
Sun staff writer Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.