No weekend off in busy home stretch for O'Malley, Ehrlich

In the final weekend of the campaign, a confident Gov. Martin O'Malley headlined events across the state, from Southern Maryland to Baltimore, while former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. took a more low-key approach, mostly checking in at gatherings organized for other purposes.

The Democratic incumbent, comfortably leading in recent polls, predicted at campaign stops Sunday that Maryland would be "a bright spot" for Democrats on Election Day, even as Republicans make gains elsewhere in the country.

Ehrlich on Sunday reminded supporters to get their friends to the polls, saying that although it is tough for a Republican to win in Democratic Maryland, an enthusiastic GOP base could make a difference.

Both seasoned politicians have been hitting the campaign trail nearly daily since April, and polls throughout the summer showed a tight race. But O'Malley has outspent his competitor, dominated television advertising and showcased party luminaries President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton.

O'Malley said that while he still does not sense "euphoric excitement" among Democratic voters, he believes that "resolve" has taken hold. "The energy is up," he said after a rally in Park Heights. "My sense if that people are very resolved to vote."

Ehrlich said he was unsure what would happen on Election Day, noting that he suspected in 2002 that he'd win and in 2006 that he'd lose. "This time, I have no idea" what might happen," he said at a veterans bull roast in Towson.

The candidates began Sunday with appearances at black churches, Ehrlich in his native Baltimore County and then Prince George's County and O'Malley in Baltimore, where he was mayor for seven years. In the afternoon, O'Malley maintained an ambitious schedule, while Ehrlich kept it lighter.

After his church visits, Ehrlich watched firefighters practice cracking open a locked car at a Kingsville fire company where his cousin is a volunteer and then stopped by the Maryland Veterans Foundation bull and oyster roast in Towson. Next, he headed back to Annapolis to take his sons Drew and Josh trick-or-treating.

O'Malley's Sunday afternoon was packed with political pep rallies in Cherry Hill, Harlem Park, Park Heights and at Security Square Mall. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was at his side nearly the entire day, and other elected officials — including state Sens. Verna Jones and Catherine Pugh, and City Council members Ed Reisinger and Sharon Green Middleton — lent support at various stops.

To travel from place to place, O'Malley was escorted by a noisy caravan of privately owned dump trucks and other large vehicles bearing his lime-green campaign posters. O'Malley, wearing a Ravens jacket, occasionally popped out of the sunroof of a sports utility vehicle to wave to onlookers.

Some of the vehicles were fitted with stereos that blasted snippets of speeches by O'Malley, Obama and other politicians mixed with the Black Eyed Peas' dance tune "Boom Boom Pow." That same soundtrack will blare in an army of get-out-the-vote vehicles on Tuesday. "I want everybody to get out there and vote," Rep. Elijah Cummings' voice crackled through the speakers. "Will you do it for us?"

In Cherry Hill, Elva Gilmore, 54, shouted from her wheelchair, "One, two, three, O-Mal-ley. We love you." Gilmore, a resident of the neighborhood for four decades, said she'd voted early and will wave signs on a street corner come Tuesday.

On Saturday, O'Malley traveled to the state's southernmost counties. He joined Rep. Steny Hoyer to wave signs in Charlotte Hall, rallied with Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in Waldorf and toured Nanjemoy, a tiny, remote town to which no governor had paid a visit since Gov. William Smallwood in the late 1700s, according to a local pastor.

At a pizza parlor lunch break, O'Malley and Hoyer greeted diners. Among them were Siegfried and Susan Herrmann of La Plata, who later told a reporter they were conservative Republicans with tea party values. Both voted for Ehrlich four years ago but said they'd cast their ballots for O'Malley this time.

"I just really don't like Ehrlich's track record at all," Siegfried Herrmann said.

Ehrlich on Saturday turned to the people whom he said inspired his run: friends and blue-collar workers hit hardest by the down economy.

He kicked off the morning at a rally in Dundalk with Democrats who said they are disenchanted with O'Malley and recalled better times when Ehrlich was in power.

Taking the stage before about 100 onlookers, Ehrlich harkened back to July 4, 2009, when he marched as a grand marshal in Dundalk's Fourth of July parade. The route was 2 miles long, he said, and as he passed by, he inspired standing ovations from crowds.

The zeal that day was part of what motivated him to run, he said, and finding those supporters will be key to a GOP win.

Speakers, including Baltimore City Councilman Nicholas D'Adamo, a Democrat, stressed their preference to personal ties over political allegiances. Former Gov. Marvin Mandel, also a Democrat, told the group that he was there because Ehrlich is a friend. To pump up the crowd, he said Ehrlich "is a man who can do this … if we get the enthusiasm in the next few days."

Ehrlich, when governor, appointed Mandel as a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents in 2003, continuing the recuperation of the image of the former governor. Mandel was found guilty of fraud in 1977, a conviction that was later overturned on procedural grounds.

Mandel urged supporters to ignore the recent polling numbers: "The whole election can change in two days," he said. Later he acknowledged that Ehrlich has an uphill fight. "Anytime you run against an incumbent, it is tough," Mandel said.

Audience members were quick to talk about their own plights. Frank Schorr, 55, a Democrat and a steelworker said he fears that he's about to be laid off. "I like what he says about jobs," Schorr said, predicting that the race would be close but Ehrlich would prevail.

A group of supporters driving pickup trucks decorated with blue and white Ehrlich signs trailed after the former governor's SUV as he traveled through Baltimore. They stopped briefly at Baltimore's City Hall to greet about a dozen state workers from the Maryland Classified Employees Association who were protesting furloughs.

As he has at many recent appearances, Ehrlich talked about why he decided to run for governor, recalling going to Republican clubs across the state and seeing crowds reaching 400 to 500 people — many of whom he said he did not know.

Those newly energized Republicans have not played a visible role for much of the Ehrlich campaign, but Saturday afternoon was an exception. About 250 Russian immigrants waited for about an hour in a northwest Baltimore banquet hall to hear him speak.

"This is overwhelming," Ehrlich said. "Everywhere we go there are large crowds. None larger than this."

There Ehrlich veered from his usual talking points, and told the audience about his Princeton senior thesis on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote about Soviet-era gulags.

"Tuesday night we will celebrate democracy in action," he said. "Tuesday night we will celebrate why you came to this country."

Andrew Razumovsky, 39, of Pikesville said he was one a small group who organized a Russians for Ehrlich committee, and said many in his community are upset by Obama's health care legislation and increasing government regulation. "We grew up in socialism," Razumovsky said. "We are here because capitalism works."

After his speech, Ehrlich, who does not drink alcohol, accepted a half shot of Cognac Courvoisier from the group's elders, who toasted him.

"That gave me a warm feeling," Ehrlich said, though it was not clear if he was referring to the audience or the drink.

Later in the day, Ehrlich was scheduled to rally with watermen who organized a flotilla of boats at City Dock in Annapolis. But a scheduled stop at a pro-Ehrlich tailgate picnic for the University of Maryland's football game ran late, and former first lady Kendel Ehrlich stood in for her husband.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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