Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican former governor Bob Ehrlich: two well-known politicians, two big personalities, two men whom you wouldn't imagine would ever back down from a challenge when the prize is the governorship of Maryland.
But even before Ehrlich made his campaign official, both men accused the other of doing just that, clashing over how they should first face-off.
Ehrlich officially announced his candidacy for governor at the Rockville Town Center Wednesday. He told supporters in Maryland’s largest jurisdiction, Montgomery County, that he wants to win his old job back, which he lost to the current governor four years ago.
Political analysts call the match-up a heavyweight event, and the first punches have been thrown.
There is some question over who challenged whom first, but the O’Malley campaign claimed it initiated the idea that the men should hold a debate on Ehrlich’s radio show this weekend.
In turn, this headline and statement showed up on Ehrlich’s Web site for governor:
Bob Ehrlich welcomes Governor O’Malley to the Kendel and Bob Show
April 6th, 2010
“We welcome Governor O’Malley to the Kendel and Bob Show this Saturday on WBAL Radio 1090 AM in Baltimore. We will host the governor from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. for a one-time discussion on our show. I look forward to playing host this Saturday as I have every Saturday for the past few years. Rather than bringing in a moderator to fill air time, I will personally host Governor O’Malley for a one-on-one conversation about the record tax increases, job losses, and budget deficits that have hurt Maryland families and small businesses in recent years. I look forward to a civil conversation about the challenges facing our state.”
But Governor O’Malley did not appear to be in the mood to show up as anyone’s guest, declining the “discussion” format. Ehrlich, likewise, wasn’t inspired by the “debate” format.
On Facebook, O’Malley elaborated:
“We were disappointed that Mr. Ehrlich declined our offer for a true debate this weekend. We proposed a very simple and standard debate at a time we knew would work for Mr. Ehrlich. We regret that he did not take our offer in the spirit it was intended. Our offer stands to have a true debate this week...”
Ehrlich fired back on Facebook:
“Governor O’Malley has declined my offer of a one hour, one-on-one discussion on the Kendel and Bob Show on WBAL Radio this Saturday. A great way for Marylanders to learn about our respective visions for the future is with a simple one hour discussion between the two of us on the airwaves. Sadly, he appears to disagree. Nonetheless, the offer for this Saturday stands.”
On Twitter, O’Malley tweeted:
“Looks like Ehrilich [sic] isn't ready to debate yet. Stay tuned for details.”
Ehrlich’s campaign motto “Take Back Maryland” is a reference to the re-election bid he lost to O’Malley, 46 percent to 53 percent. Keep in mind, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one in Maryland. But Ehrlich has defeated many a Democrat before, most famously former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. And Ehrlich may have the economy on his side, as O’Malley has made unpopular budget cuts over the last two years.
On his blog, O’Malley shared his own interpretation of Ehrlich’s bid to “Take Back Maryland”:
“We cannot let Bob Ehrlich take us backward. Please help us grow our campaign, right now.”
Ehrlich will need to grow his campaign coffers rapidly to match O’Malley’s. In January, the Washington Post reported that O’Malley’s camp had raised $5.7 million, compared to $151,529 in Ehrlich’s campaign account.
But for Maryland voters who don’t care whether it’s a debate or a discussion -- they just want to hear the men go head-to-head -- they’ll have to wait until one candidate is willing to step away from his corner of the ring, and one of the two standing offers is finally accepted.