In a bid to pump up Maryland Republicans of all stripes, former GOP Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. hosted a rally Sunday that featured moderates such as Rudolph W. Giuliani along with Ehrlich's conservative primary foe, Brian Murphy.
The theme: Don't be distracted by recent political polls and go vote.
The event was held at a Montgomery County farm and capped off a frantic weekend of Ehrlich campaign events focused on persuading Republicans to take advantage of the state's new early voting rules and cast their ballots for change in the governor's mansion.
Ehrlich's statewide rally attracted a few hundred people — many of them volunteers on the campaign. "Here is the secret plan," Ehrlich said to supporters. "Work your butt off for nine days."
Headlining the event was Giuliani, the former New York mayor who campaigned for Ehrlich in 2002 and 2006. This time he called Gov. Martin O'Malley "the most anti-business governor in the country," saying that he "taxes them too much" and "regulates them too much."
Giuliani has toured the country in the past week stumping for Republicans. Despite his wild popularity in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, Giuliani only drew 1.4 percent of the vote in 2008 when he appeared on the GOP primary ballot in Maryland shortly after suspending his campaign operations.
Both gubernatorial candidates are deep into get-out-the-vote mode. O'Malley brought in former President Bill Clinton to give a pep talk in Baltimore Thursday evening, recycling another star who has appeared in past campaigns. Four years ago, the former president cut a TV ad and rallied for O'Malley the weekend before the general election.
The Ehrlich event had a low-key feel — a band played while supporters waited in a field at High Point Farm in western Montgomery County. Speakers also included moderate Republican former Rep. Constance Morella and Ehrlich's running mate, Mary Kane.
After the speeches, Ehrlich posed for pictures in a dump truck labeled "Help Clean-up Maryland, dump O'Malley." Also on hand was a fake "Owe'Malley" ATM. Scott Graham, a GOP candidate for House of Delegates, said, "In nine days we are going to take away his PIN."
The newcomer on the GOP stage Sunday was Murphy, who has not appeared on the stump since Ehrlich defeated him in the GOP primary. Murphy's presence revealed a shift in Ehrlich's attitude: Back in September, Ehrlich didn't mention Murphy by name at a GOP victory news conference. But on Sunday, Ehrlich was far more effusive, calling the conservative "the future of the party."
Murphy's campaign gained attention in early August when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a darling of the tea party movement, endorsed him on her Facebook page. Murphy said he was asked last week to participate.
"The whole point is to get people motivated," Murphy said shortly before taking the stage. He put aside his differences with Ehrlich, characterizing the policy differences as "shades of gray."
Murphy, on stage, acknowledged it is "hard to be excited about firing a governor," but said he thinks the GOP will turn out to vote. He dismissed a Baltimore Sun survey published Sunday that puts Ehrlich 14 points behind O'Malley.
"I don't care what the polls say," he shouted. The results, he said, could lull Democrats into not voting.
Ehrlich also was unfazed by The Sun poll and quipped that it probably over-counted illegal immigrants. "I'm going to track down those 'new Americans' — they should not be in polls," Ehrlich said, using the euphemism O'Malley commonly uses for undocumented workers.
And Giuliani hypothesized that pollsters this year are using inaccurate turnout models because they are relying on Republicans who voted in 2008 and therefore failing to consider a greater enthusiasm this year for the GOP.
But in Maryland, the anti-incumbency fervor doesn't appear as strong as it does in the rest of the country. Jessica Fugate, 28, of White Marsh said it was "not fair" that O'Malley was not being dragged down by President Barack Obama's poor showing in national polls. She recalled that the reverse was not true: In 2006, Ehrlich took the blame for President George W. Bush's unpopular policies.
"The state, in my opinion, bleeds blue," she said.