Cardin, Ehrlich square off

The Baltimore Sun

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. called John McCain a "singular champion for people who pay taxes," while Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said Barack Obama will "restore America's international leadership" at a debate of presidential surrogates last night that touched on church-state separation and the next administration's commitment to Israel.

Advocating his party's ticket at a forum that drew 800 people to Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore County, Cardin said that McCain would continue what Cardin called the flawed policies of the Bush administration on the economy, Iraq and health care.

"With all due respect, Republicans do not deserve four more years in the White House," Cardin said.

On a day when the stock market lost more than 4 percent of its value and Lehman Bros. declared bankruptcy, Cardin said that the Bush administration's economic policies that reduced regulatory influence and allowed the proliferation of risky financial instruments were "not good for employees or employers."

Ehrlich called McCain a "proven tax-cutter" and a "proven cost-cutter" who possessed the strength of principle to stand up for the rights of Israel and to face down Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Ehrlich chastised Obama for voting against a Senate resolution declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. "His first instinct is always appeasement, and that's a problem," Ehrlich said.

The capacity crowd in the congregation's auditorium illustrated the popularity of Cardin and Ehrlich, as well as the intense interest in the presidential contest in Maryland, a state considered safe for Obama in the fall election.

After opening statements, Cardin and Ehrlich took questions from Abba Poliakoff of the Maryland Israel Development Center and Martha Weiman of the Baltimore Jewish Council that reflected the audience's interest in the Middle East and Israel.

Cardin said he found it "personally offensive" that many government events and programs during the Bush administration open with prayers aimed at a "specific" religion, and he indicated that a McCain administration would further blur boundaries between church and state. Obama has vowed to maintain the government's role in fostering faith-based initiatives.

Ehrlich said he knew of "no instance" where McCain improperly inserted the role of religion in public life. "I do believe we should fight the eradication of religion from society, rather than indulge it," said Ehrlich, during one of several moments where remarks veered from the views of the candidates to those presenting their arguments last night.

An Obama administration would be good for Israel, Cardin argued, because it would "engage the international community."

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