O'Malley hopes Obama ties, unions can cause turnout spike in Prince George's
UPDATE, 2:39 p.m. — Looks like Martin will get his wish. The Washington Post, citing two unnamed state Democratic sources, says President Obama will campaign for O'Malley on Oct. 7, possibly at Bowie State University.
Late Friday night, Gov. Martin O’Malley was shaking the last few hands on his way out of a union hall in Forrestville when Jos Williams made him a promise.
“We’ll deliver Montgomery County and Prince George’s County,” the president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO pledged. “The western half of the state can do what the hell it wants.”
O’Malley’s re-election campaign will need to do more than just win Prince George’s if the incumbent is to top the Republican nominee, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, in the Nov. 2 general election. It'll need robust voter turnout far in excess of the middling 21 percent on primary day. Turning out voters in Prince George's will require heaps of support from the county’s unions, plus some payoff from the incumbent's closeness with President Barack Obama.
In the past two days, O’Malley has appeared with Obama at the White House for the signing of a jobs bill and released a radio ad featuring Obama that will start airing in the Washington market next week. (It is already airing in Baltimore.)
The Baltimore Sun is reporting the ad is airing on African-American radio stations. O'Malley spokesman Mark Giangreco said the campaign doesn't comment on the specifics of ad buys. If the ad is targeted at black voters, it would be the clearest display yet of what appears to be an O'Malley strategy to use Obama to fire up Maryland's large black population, while focusing on his own accomplishments in front of swing voters and moderates.
Seeking state-level gains from national politics is nothing new for O'Malley and his party brethren. In 2006, Democrats linked Ehrlich — who was relatively popular — to the wildly unpopular then-President George W. Bush at every opportunity, including in TV ads. It worked — Ehrlich says he was regularly asked about the Iraq War, to the detriment of his appeal to swing voters.
The whole thing with swing voters appears less important in this year's race than it was in 2006. Neither campaign would guess how the Obama-O'Malley connection will play with this critical constituency. And thus far, neither camp seems eager to make the race a referendum on Obama, who has a 60 percent approval rating in the Free State. Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth wrote in an e-mail that the campaign wasn’t interested in tying O’Malley to Obama (it is, he said, interested in tying O’Malley to unemployment.)
Instead, the prize, at least for O'Malley, is the base. Heavily black, overwhelmingly Democratic Prince George’s, for instance, doesn’t have a lot of swing voters, and if O’Malley’s speech Friday night is any indication, he is willing to attach himself at the hip to Obama if it’s necessary to fire up voters there and in Baltimore City.
“They want to surround our president with hostile governors and we’re not going to let them do it,” O’Malley said Friday, pounding his fist on the podium for emphasis. “Tell you what, I’m proud of Barack Obama. I’m grateful for Barack Obama because if it wasn’t for the risk he took on that stimulus, we’d be in the middle of the second Great Depression.”
In interviews, Democratic officials conceded they were worried about low turnout on primary day in Prince George’s. Even with a competitive, multi-candidate race for county executive, 10,000 fewer voters showed up at the polls than in the 2006 primary, a drop of 10 percent.
“Turnout on Tuesday, we can’t have that again,” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, O’Malley’s running mate, said during Friday’s rally in front of a crowd of about 75 union members. “That was the trial heat. We won, we get to the final heat. We have to step up our game.”
Behind the worries about turnout is a national trend in which Democrats are less enthused about voting this year than their Republican counterparts. Even so, Brown, O’Malley, and Maryland Democratic Party Chair Susan Turnbull all said they were optimistic that having a top-of-the-ticket race would drive turnout up (there was a competitive primary for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2006). O’Malley said he generally expects turnout to double from the primary to the general.
History shows turnout in Prince George’s can make or break a Democratic candidacy. O'Malley received 12,000 more votes in Prince George's County in 2006 than Kathleen Kennedy Townsend did in her failed 2002 race. Ehrlich received 3,000 fewer. The resulting 15,000 vote swing accounted for 12 percent of O'Malley's margin of victory. And with polling for the race generally within the margin of error, energizing the base will be essential.
Obama has plenty of incentive to provide an assist. Though O’Malley originally endorsed Hilary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic presidentional nomination, he has been a loyal soldier since Obama’s victory, appearing at the side of the president and Vice President Joe Biden dozens of times — going against a tide of Democrats who are now running away from the president and his signature health care law. The reward O’Malley hopes to gain is a presidential visit.
“I’d like to have the president come,” he said. “I know he’s got 37 states to cover, but we’d sure like him to come to Maryland.”
Getting Obama to make an appearance or two in the county may require some heavy lobbying from O'Malley and his allies. Likewise, extracting maximum advantage from the unions could involve some work.
On Friday night, for example, union leaders asked members who were willing to pledge eight hours a week to O’Malley’s re-election effort to come to the front of the hall, and only about half did. It wasn’t until the pledge was dropped down to two hours that the last stragglers joined up.
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