BOWIE, Md. -- Even as some Democratic candidates run from the White House t
his election year, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley eagerly embraced President Obama Thursday during a rally at historically black Bowie State University.
In turn, the president exhorted several thousand supporters to go to the polls next month and vote for O'Malley, who is being challenged by ex-governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
"The pundits are saying you might not be as pumped up, you might not be as energized" as in 2008, when Obama handily carried Maryland. He still enjoys solid poll numbers here even as his popularity has dropped into the low 40s elsewhere in the nation. "It's up to you to prove them wrong. Don't make me look bad," the president said.
Obama has been crisscrossing the nation in recent weeks to fire up recession-battered, war-weary Democrats on the right and left, hoping they will vote in large enough numbers next month to retain the party's House and Senate majorities, and keep or elect governors and other state officials around the country.
Standing jacket-less in a white shirt and striped tie on a bunting-draped stage, Obama praised O'Malley as someone who froze in-state college tuition for the past two years, cut crime and slashed $5 billion from the state budget.
O'Malley, who originally backed Hillary Clinton for president but has become close to Obama since then, is locked in a bruising re-match with Ehrlich, whom he beat four years ago by 117,000 votes.
In Maryland, Democrats outnumber Republicans by two-to-one but independents make up nearly a third of the electorate. Blacks are also a key voting bloc, especially in Baltimore and Prince George's County (home of Bowie State). But in this year's Sept. 14 primaries around the state, just over one in five black voters in those two jurisdictions went to the polls.
First Lady Michelle Obama
has jumped into the campaign fray, urging young voters to participate in the midterm elections next month. And as he has done in other recent get-out-the vote rallies, Obama slammed the Republicans' strategy of opposing many of his economic and social initiatives, and tried to make clear he felt the pain of Americans hit hard by the economic crisis. He accused the GOP of seeking to "ride that frustration all the way to the ballot box," and, should they take over Capitol Hill, return to Bush-era policies.
Obama's O'Malley rally came two days after a second poll
gave the incumbent and former Baltimore mayor a solid lead over Ehrlich, with whom he had been running neck-and-neck since March. The Oct. 5 Rasmussen Report pegged O'Malley at 49 percent to Ehrlich's 41 percent, with one percent favoring another candidate and eight percent undecided. The margin of error is four percentage points.
Last week, a Washington Post poll gave O'Malley an 11-point edge
over Ehrlich, 52 to 41 percent. A former congressman and state legislator, Ehrlich won his only term as governor in 2002. Their first debate
is set for Oct. 11 at WJZ-TV in Baltimore.
Ehrlich has downplayed Obama's visit for days, saying the president will come to Maryland, speak and then depart, making very little difference and leaving the rivals to go at each other as before. He also noted that although Obama campaigned for Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey last year, both states elected Republican governors.
Having heard that line before, Obama told the cheering crowd, "They can take back New Jersey, they can take back Virginia, but they can't take back Maryland."
Even as Obama touted O'Malley's record, Ehrlich unleashed a TV ad blitz in the populous but pricey media markets in the Washington suburbs of Prince George's and Montgomery counties. O'Malley has been on the air in the region for two weeks.
After his 35-minute speech, Obama glad-handed the crowd for several minutes before returning to the motorcade that would take him to Andrews Air Force Base and on to Chicago. There he hoped to work a little hometown presidential magic in the extremely tight race between Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk to fill his old Senate seat.