Rockville -- Revealing that he received a diagnosis of clinical depression this week, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan bowed out of the race for governor yesterday, a startling move that reshapes this year's contentious gubernatorial campaign.
Duncan's decision eliminates the need for a long and costly Democratic primary that some had feared would leave the eventual nominee depleted of cash and politically bruised.
"In the course of waging a vigorous and aggressive campaign, increasingly I've struggled with what has recently been diagnosed as depression," Duncan said during a terse, emotional announcement at the county office building. "At first, I attributed this to the stress of the campaign, but over the past couple of months it became clear that ... this was more than the usual wear and tear of the campaign trail."
Supporters and rivals said they were shocked by the decision. Some lamented the loss of a candidate who, although he was an underdog from the start and was still trailing by double digits in many primary polls, is considered by members of both parties as a seasoned and competent leader.
"It's now a two-man race," said Donald F. Norris, a public policy professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "Ehrlich is going to roll out all the guns. It is going to be a tough campaign. Given the voter registration in this state and the polls that I have seen, this has got to be considered O'Malley's race to lose."
The decision left uncertain Duncan's political future and that of his running mate, former Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms.
Simms agreed to join the ticket a week before Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a Democrat, said he would not seek a sixth term. Many political observers have said that Simms would be a formidable candidate for attorney general.
Duncan, 50, said yesterday that he will serve the remaining six months of his term as county executive and will not seek re-election this year, which would end his 12-year tenure as one of the state's most visible county leaders. He did not rule out a future campaign.
Joined yesterday by his wife, one of his five children and Simms, Duncan received a standing ovation as he entered a standing-room-only conference room in the Montgomery County executive office building.
Campaign staff members listened as Duncan read a three-minute statement in a tone that, as has been true in the past several weeks of his campaign, offered no indication of his illness.
"It's difficult for me to announce today that I will no longer be a candidate for governor of Maryland, but it's the right decision for me, for my family and for our state," Duncan said. "Now, it's time for me to focus on my health."
He left the room after reading the statement and did not take questions from reporters.
Though the extent of his illness is not clear, campaign aides said Duncan made up his mind to quit the race early yesterday morning. He visited a doctor and received the diagnosis Monday, and began taking anti-depressant medication this week.
Duncan and O'Malley, veteran politicians and aggressive campaigners, had been circling each other for months.
Duncan had campaigned heavily in Baltimore, attacking the mayor's record on crime and schools. O'Malley has established a visible network in Montgomery County - where he grew up - and his running mate, Del. Anthony G. Brown, recently predicted that the mayor would carry the state's most-populous jurisdiction outright.
House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve of Montgomery County, who endorsed Duncan early in the campaign, said he thinks O'Malley will quickly capture support from those who until yesterday backed Duncan.
"With Duncan and O'Malley on one hand and Ehrlich on the other, it's like you've got a choice between chocolate ice cream, vanilla ice cream and liver," Barve said. "I'll take vanilla."
Duncan's rivals praised the county executive for waging a good fight for months and wished him well.
Speaking after a corporate picnic he attended at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, Ehrlich called Duncan's diagnosis a "very serious condition" and said he felt "a great deal of empathy" for the county executive.
In an unusual jab at O'Malley, Ehrlich had said earlier in the day that he appreciated the respectful way Duncan had run his campaign, as opposed to the way the mayor has run his.
"It can be a pressure cooker to begin with," the governor said of the grind of a statewide political campaign. "We're competitors, but [Duncan] has always been a gentleman."
O'Malley, who got a call from Duncan during a noontime Mass he was attending in downtown Baltimore, kept a low profile yesterday. He issued a statement that offered prayers and called Duncan an outstanding public servant, but he let Brown, his running mate, answer questions on behalf of the campaign.
"Mr. Duncan has conducted a very robust campaign," Brown said. "I believe ... it is time to run a general election campaign, full steam ahead. We look forward to engaging the governor on the important issues that Marylanders are concerned about."
Democratic leaders across the state embraced that forward-looking approach yesterday, calling for the party to rally behind O'Malley.
Several political experts predicted that a full-fledged primary campaign would have left O'Malley or Duncan without adequate resources to engage Ehrlich, who some think could raise as much as $20 million for his re-election effort.
"Doug Duncan is an honorable man, and he made a prudent, responsible decision," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat. "I'm sure he measured his opportunities and what he and his family and supporters would have to go through throughout the rest of the campaign, and made the responsible, mature decision."
Prospective candidates have until July 3 to formally request a spot on the ballot, but this late in the campaign, no one is expected to emerge who could pose a formidable challenge to O'Malley.
Norris, the UMBC professor, said Duncan's departure would allow O'Malley to redouble his efforts to raise campaign money from donors who previously supported his rival. Norris also suggested that voters will soon see Ehrlich and O'Malley step up their efforts.
Duncan has been an underdog since he announced his candidacy in October. He raised $1.3 million last year, compared with $4.3 million for O'Malley and $4.9 million for Ehrlich, according to campaign finance records.
He has continually lagged in public opinion polls, sometimes by close to 20 percentage points, according to some internal campaign surveys.
Most polls, however, show him beating Ehrlich in a potential general election matchup in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-1.
A mid-June poll by Zogby Interactive conducted for Wall Street Journal Online had Duncan leading Ehrlich 53 percent to 39 percent. O'Malley led Ehrlich by a nearly identical margin, according to the online poll, which had a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller of Prince George's County said Duncan struggled to craft a campaign that was critical of O'Malley while avoiding bashing the state's largest city and turning off Baltimore voters Duncan would have needed to win.
"He had a hard time shaping his message. For an underdog to move up, you have to be relentless," Miller said. "He was very gentle in nature. It wasn't in his style."
But in recent weeks, Duncan - who had anchored his campaign on the education issue - had stepped up his effort, and some thought he was gaining momentum.
Duncan aired the election's first television advertisements at the beginning of the last month and recently opened a Baltimore campaign office in Charles Village.
Campaign aides said Duncan began noticing symptoms a year ago. In recent weeks, they said, he had become increasingly unfocused behind the scenes. Campaign officials said Duncan has never been hospitalized for his condition and had not taken medication for the illness before this week.
After the diagnosis, there was initial thought in his campaign that Duncan could continue to run. But Wednesday night he canceled an event with the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and, shortly before 9 a.m. yesterday, called campaign manager Scott Arceneaux to confirm his decision to get out of the race.
Duncan, who was born in Rockville, is the fifth of 13 children. He graduated from Columbia University in New York in 1976 - after three years - majoring in psychology and political science. His father wrestled with bipolar disorder, campaign aides said.
State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat, said she was "dumbstruck" by the news. Gladden, who had not endorsed either candidate, called O'Malley's office yesterday to offer her assistance in his campaign.
"This is a time for Democrats to come together," she said, echoing many who predicted that Duncan's political career is far from over. "He still has an opportunity to play a major role in state politics."
Sun reporters Stephanie Desmon, Doug Donovan, Michael Dresser, Andrew A. Green and Sumathi Reddy contributed to this article.
What they said
Statement from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan
For over a year now, in the course of waging a vigorous and aggressive campaign, increasingly I have struggled with what has recently been diagnosed as depression. At first I attributed it to the stress of the campaign, but over the past couple of months it became clear to me, my wife, Barbara, and our family and to my closest supporters that this was more than the usual wear and tear of the campaign trail.
My family has a history of battling this disease - and it hasn't always been easy. For people who have not suffered from this illness, or who have [not] lived with a loved one who does, they may not understand just how difficult this can be.
It is very difficult. And it is difficult for me to announce today that I will no longer be a candidate for governor of Maryland, but it is the right decision for me, my family and for our state.
Earlier today I called Mayor O'Malley and told him I would support his candidacy against Governor Ehrlich. ... While I will continue serving the people of Montgomery County for the rest of my term, and will do what I can to help elect Democrats at every level in Maryland, I will not be a candidate on the ballot for any office this year for the first time in decades.
For twelve years, I've had the honor of serving the people of Montgomery County as their executive - and together we've made great, great progress. But now it is time for me to focus on my health.
I want to thank all of the people, from all across Maryland, who have lent their support to this effort, too many to name here today. But I do want to acknowledge and thank my friend Stu Simms, a man of extraordinary integrity, depth and substance. I knew when I chose Stu as my lieutenant governor that the state of Maryland needed his kind of leadership - and I still believe that today.
Finally, I want to thank my family - my wife, Barbara, and my children, Michael, Andrew, John, Thomas and Conor. ... They have stood by me through so much over the years and they are standing by me in my decision today.
Statement from Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Duncan's former rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Doug Duncan called earlier today to share the news he announced this afternoon. I told him Katie and I would be praying for him and Barbara, as he deals with his medical issues.
Doug is an outstanding public servant. He has made an exceptional contribution to our state for more than 20 years as an elected official. And he will continue to contribute even more in the coming campaign and in government. I look forward to meeting with him soon to discuss this, and to working with him in the months and years ahead.
Statement from Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
I was saddened to learn today of County Executive Duncan's health concerns. Doug is a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. He embodies the personal decency and graciousness Marylanders deserve from their public servants. As our paths regularly crossed these past few years, we always put politics aside to talk about our families, especially our children's shared interest in sports. Kendel and I extend our best wishes to Doug and his family.
Ehrlich also commented to reporters:
You can disagree on issues, you can run against each other. But you can do it in a gentlemanly ... way. The honest, just the blunt part of this is, I do not have that sort of relationship with Martin O'Malley, and Doug did not have that relationship with Martin O'Malley. So I appreciate class and dignity. I appreciate adulthood. ... On the whole it's either neutral for us, or maybe a slightly good thing because now we can focus on ... the horrific nature of the O'Malley record.