So will the two governors. Ehrlich insists that his challenge of O’Malley is not a grudge match. And he says that the last time out, O’Malley “ran against George Bush, really.”
This time around, O’Malley has come at Ehrlich head-on with attack ads—aired in early summer, some during the Ehrlichs’ own radio show—that charged him with being a lobbyist for special interests, including big oil, while at his firm and suggested a link to the BP oil spill.
Though O’Malley was forced to admit that his campaign went too far in linking Ehrlich to the spill, he defends the tenor of the ads: “If he chooses to hide behind radio-show screeners and falsehoods and the mask of his secret government-affairs practice, then we must go after that as best we can.”
As of early August, Ehrlich hadn’t aired a single ad on radio or TV. He explains that his abstinence was due not to lack of funds but to lack of need, saying he improved in the polls with every one of O’Malley’s negative ads.
O’Malley has become more restrained since his days as mayor, when he had very public feuds with other officials. He once told reporters in a rant that the Baltimore state’s attorney should “get off her ass” and try a case. “I think I’ve done a much better job of thinking before I speak,” he says.
But there’s no mistaking the flicker in his gray-green eyes when he says of his opponent: “We took him on and we took him on very directly, and we will continue to.”
On that front, it’s an even fight.
Ehrlich—who, at his wife’s suggestion, recently read Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s book about the 2008 presidential election—may end an interview by talking about his son’s batting average. But his easygoing, average-guy persona leaves plenty of room for battle.
Ehrlich knows better than anyone that his opponent is an aggressive, hard-charging contender who can campaign with a vengeance. But, he says, leaning back in his chair in an office that’s three miles from the mansion he once called home, “so am I.”
This article first appeared in the September 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.