O'Malley-Ehrlich debate analysis with the Post's John Wagner

Oct 14, 2010

Post Maryland politics reporter John Wagner will be online Thursday, Oct. 14, at 1:15 p.m. ET to discuss and analyze the second Maryland gubernatorial debate between incumbent Martin O'Malley (D) and former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R).

Maryland Politics Blog

The Post debate between Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has just wrapped up, and we're ready to hear your thoughts and take your questions. What's on your mind?

Does anyone actually like Ehrlich or do most just want a change from O'Malley and he is only alternative?

Both candidates had significant numbers of supporters in the audience this afternoon, and clearly a sizable percentage of Marylanders would prefer to see Ehrlich return to Annapolis -- we'll know just how sizable on Nov. 2.

Ehrlich wasn't the only alternative. Another Republican by the name of Brian Murphy challenged Ehrlich in the GOP primary and received about a quarter of the vote.

There are also several minor-party candidates in the race.

Who do you think came across better and more likeable? I found Ehrlich sounding childish more often than not, and his answer about what he liked best in O'Malley was just something that was also true about himself. I was wondering if you took away those impressions too.

Often debates confirm impressions you have when you start watching. It's certainly possible if you had a poor impression of Ehrlich's likeability before, some things he said will confirm that.

On the other hand, many of his supporters in the room here clearly thought he was scoring points.

The debate question you mention is a tricky one to answer. Candidates don't want to offer too much praise for their opponents but do want to at least appear to have answered the question.

Clearly, Bob Ehrlich learned from the last debate, he was more on topic and had a clearer message for most of the time. How do you think O'Malley handled this debate in comparison?

Ehrlich clearly came out more aggressively in this debate than he did Monday on WJZ. He repeated several times that small businesses were being "hammered" by O'Malley and accused O'Malley of talking in cliches.

O'Malley's performance was more consistent with hi performance on Monday. He sought at several points to undermine Ehrlich's credibility. A good example was the question about how Ehrlich would pay for a repeal in the sales tax. After Ehrlich offered some thoughts, O'Malley said it as clear he had 'no idea."

You just wrote that the majority of Marylanders would prefer Ehrlich, how so? I thought  O'Malley was leading in the polls.

I said a "sizable percentage." That's not necessarily a majority. O'Malley has been leading in recent polls. You are right about that.

Where does Ehrlich stand on Maryland's current position of recognizing marriages from other states?

He said he opposes that -- a difference with O'Malley, who reiterated that he supports an opinion from Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) that Maryland should recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Did I mishear O'Malley or did he offer no response to how he would fund the Purple Line except for saying he thinks it's cheaper in the long run than buses (really)? And did he just say he appointed a commission to study pension reform? It seemed like a lot of evasion and, I don't like to say it, but I think Ehrlich was right when he called him out for cliches.

O'Malley's plan for the Purple Line relies heavily on federal funding, which the state is competing to receive. He mentioned a number of possibilities for the state share, which Ehrlich said would be inadequate. Ehrlich suggested the rail line could not be built without a major increase in the gas tax.

The legislature has created a commission to study pension reform. That was the group O'Malley mentioned. He suggested policymakers should see what they have to say.

Did O'Malley cut education funding and is it true he supplanted a lot of education funds with stimulus dollars? Also, did they discuss Nancy Grasmick and why O'Malley tried to fire her?

In 2007, O'Malley proposed -- and the legislature approved -- curbing the inflationary increases that were built into the state education plan known as Thornton. So it's more accurate to say he reduced planned increases.

It is true that O'Malley more recently funded some education programs, including the geographic cost of education index, with federal stimulus dollars.

Nancy Grasmick's job security did not come up.

Ehrlich seemed to raise his voice a lot in this debate. Since it was known that certain high profile national Tea Party leaders supported Brian Murphy in the Republican primary, could he be trying to turn himself into the "mad as hell" Tea Party candidate?

It is true that several national leaders associated with the Tea Party backed Brian Murphy in the GOP primary and that Ehrlich is counting on Murphy voters to turn out on Nov. 2.

My guess is he raised his voice more out of frustration than trying to appeal to those voters, however.

Gov. O'Malley, is always cool, calm and collected. You get the warmth with him. Ehrlich comes across, as cool, mean and angry at each debate. Each debate O'Malley has been clearly the winner.

I'll let this one stand as your opinion. Perhaps other people can tell us whether they agree with you.

What do Jack Johnson and Doug Duncan think of Ehrlich? Will the Post call them up to ask their opinions on Ehrlich's challenge?

O'Malley and Duncan had a very bitter primary for governor in 2006, and Duncan has been friendlier wih Ehrlich since then. During the 2006 campaign, however, Duncan was fairly critical of several of Ehrlich's policies.

By most accounts, Johnson and Ehrlich had a good working relationship during Ehrlich's tenure -- but Johnson has endorsed O'Malley.

I watched the debate on TV earlier this week and didn't feel it provided me with much clear info on the differences between the two candidates. I watched this one to see if I could hear about the candidates specific stance on specific issues. Sadly, I must say, that I was put off and completely distracted by Mr. Ehrlich's snarkiness.

I would be interested to hear whether others feel Ehrlich came across as snarky or whether he was scoring points against O'Malley.

Did O'Malley say how he would fix Prince George's Hospital?

I don't recall O'Malley offering specifics during the debate. He re-affirmed his commitment to the hospital when asked to name a way in which he would benefit Prince George's.

How do you think the Ehrlich-O'Malley debates will affect the actual voter turn out on November 2nd? Are undecided or independent voters going to be more or less inclined to vote? From the two debates we have seen, which candidate is scoring more favorably?

From what we've heard, Monday's debate drew a relatively large audience, and there seemed to be great interest in this one. Perhaps that will help turnout.

But again, most people who watch debates tend to come away feeling stronger about the candidate they supported before the debate began.

Didn't Ehrlich also say he supported benefits outside of marriage and that he passed legislation to that extent?

Ehrlich did say that he supports conferring some rights on same-sex partners -- such as medical visitations -- that married people enjoy.  During his term, Ehrlich vetoed a bill that would have extended some of those rights, saying he was opposed to a registry of couples required by the bill. He later supported granting many of those rights by a slightly different means.

O'Malley missed his usual zingers about fees, tuition and coded language. In some cases, he even backed down. Did his handlers think he came across too strongly in the first debate? Or was it that he was unprepared for this debate?

Ehrlich was clearly more aggressive in this debate. I'm not sure O'Malley was any less so. What do others think?

How do you rate Ehrlich as a candidate to, say, Delaware's O'Donnell?

Ehrlich is very different in that he's held the office that he's currently seeking. Despite this being an anti-incumbent year in many respects, Ehrlich has not tried to hide his time in office. He even talked today about the early days of his political career when he was a state delegate.

I thought Ehrlich finally called O'Malley out for talking around specifics (he referenced it as cliches) and very clearly spelled out policy differences. By contrast, I thought O'Malley generally avoided substantive discussion except in touting accomplishments and offered very little in specific policy points toward the future. When he did offer policy points for the future, O'Malley declined to say how he would fund them or what he thought they did aside from saying which group did or did not support them. Overall, Ehrlich brought his A-game and O'Malley was unprepapred.

Thanks for your view. Do you others agree?

Have to admit, did not think O'Malley was going to mention the Ehrlich campaign's allegedly busing homeless African Americans from Philly to P.G. County on election day to help gain a share of the African-American vote. My question, however, is how is this not a larger issue? I know it got some press coverage in 2006 but it seems to have been played down overall, is this true?

The O'Malley campaign and its surrogates have been reminding audiences in Prince George's about this episode.

It certainly would have gotten more coverage in 2006 if Ehrlich had won.

Okay, I prefer O'Malley. But it did seem to me that Ehrlich was unnecessarily angry and loud, trying to force O'Malley into some sort of mistake or simply make himself appear to be the "firmer leader." It put me off, but as I said, I am inclined to be put off by him.

Again, debates tend to firm up people's impressions.

Has Sarah Palin's largest supporter John Coale given O'Malley $500,000 again this time? Rumor has it he has

John Coale,  a former lawyer, loaned O'Malley $500,000 during the closing days of the 2006 campaign. He is probably one of the few people in America who support both O'Malley and Palin.

How come there isn't more talk about re-redistricting and if the candidates, specifically Ehrlich, would look to cut the Disparity Grant?

These are both worthy topics, but I think redistricting in particular is hard to talk about in the context of a television debate.


Sounds like they covered more ground than they did during the debate on Monday. Any obvious issues left out/still not addressed after the two debates?

A couple come to mind: the death penalty, which O'Malley opposes and Ehrlich supports; and slots. There were some references to casino owners in both debates but no discussion of what the candidates would do to change Maryland's program going forward.

One vote for snarky. You may be right, however, that its may be based on a preexisting feelings going into the debate.

Snarky gets a vote ...

Did it seem like O'Malley was flustered at times? In the last question, he responded cooly by mentioning his wife while he read from a piece of paper: what was that all about? I can only guess it's because he was flustered.

People watching on TV had a better view of things like this than the journalists in the back of the Post auditorium. In some cases, candidates' gestures can be very telling.

Will the Post do fact-checking on both candidates? I attended the debate and it was apparent that both candidates believe the other is at least misrepresenting ideas or outright lying. Fact-checking on BOTH candidates would be a great service WaPo could provide.

We have done some of this and certainly intend to do more. Thanks for the suggestion.

Governor Ehrlich says the sales tax cut would spur spending to a level that would offset the revenue loss. If the one percent increase brought in 600 million, how much would spending have to increase to regenerate that lost revenue? is 12 billion right? Do experts beleive that is possible?

To offset the revenue the state would lose from a cut in the sales tax from 6 percent to 5 percent, consumption would have to increase by 20 percent. Many economists are skeptical about that. Some suggest it would take a more dramatic reduction to spur that kind of additional consumption.

I have to disagree won the issue of snarkiness. We are talking about the postion of governor and the candidates should present themselves that way ...not like a p_ _ _ed off little boy on the playground. But, I will admit, through all his pointless attacks at O'Malley, Ehrlich did offer a little bit more in this debate than the last. Would appreciate less of the little boy attitude though.

Did others think he had a "boy attitude?"

I am an O'Malley girl all the way but I will say that Ehrlich greatly improved from Monday's performance. He really had nowhere to go but up... He was more focused and had much better talking points. As you have said, Ehrlich was more aggressive this time around which certainly worked for him in some instances but it got a little petty in others. So, snarky gets another vote here. I do think that O'Malley performed a bit better this time around, although, I do agree that he talked around a couple of questions. I was surprised that McGinty asked about the racial tension and alleged race card accusations but it was good to let them address it...

Thanks for your thoughts.

Most all will admit that this was not really a debate. Makes you wonder what an O'Malley-Murphy debate would have looked like! Your comments.

An O'Malley-Murphy debate undoubtedly would have been very different. One unusual thing about this race is that you essentially have two incumbents competing against one another for a second term.

They have barely touched on the bay. Personally, and I am an O'Malley supporter so this is biased, but states he supports businesses and the bay, but during the first three years of his term not one penalty was assessed against the seven worst polluting coal-plants in Maryland. The only penalties came after the Sun began reporting on it. I think O'Malley hasn't been perfect on this issue but certainly he has shown progress towards fixing the bay and I feel he hasn't capitalized on that in either of these debates. Also, citation: The Baltimore Sun, "States Give Power Plants a Pass on Pollution,"  May 28th, 2006

You are right in saying the Bay got relatively little mention in this debate -- or Monday's, for that matter. The issue came up in part when the candidates talked about the so-called "flush tax, which was designed to improve the health of the Bay.

I thought O'Malley was very evasive on how the Purple Line would be funded as he was with most of his answers about sources of revenue.

Thanks for your thoughts.

I'm afraid that's all I have time for. Thanks for all your questions and observations this afternoon.

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John Wagner
John Wagner is Maryland politics reporter for The Washington Post.
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