President Barack Obama told the audience at a campaign event for Maryland’s Democratic governor that the success of his agenda is at stake in November.
Obama sought to rally some of the same voters who supported him two years ago on behalf of Governor Martin O’Malley and Democratic congressional candidates seeking re-election less than a month from now.
“I’m going to need you just as fired up as you were in 2008,” Obama said at Bowie State University in the suburbs of Washington. “Our victory in that campaign, that wasn’t the end of the road, that was the beginning.”
The rematch in the gubernatorial contest between Democratic incumbent O’Malley and former Governor Bob Ehrlich, the Republican who lost his job to O’Malley four years ago, is among the most closely watched gubernatorial contests in the country. Obama and Democrats are seeking to generate more enthusiasm among supporters to limit Republican gains in races nationwide.
“One of the issues that scares the O’Malley campaign is the prospect of very low African-American turnout,” said James Gimpel, associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland in College Park. The 52-year-old former congressman Ehrlich is depending on “an energized base with lots of crossover voters,” Gimpel said.
Bowie State is located in Prince George’s County, Maryland, which has a population that is 65 percent black, according to the Census Bureau.
Obama again went on the attack against Republicans, saying their campaign platform, called the “Pledge to America,” is the “same old snake oil they’ve been peddling for years.”
Obama has been campaigning around the country as Republicans are threatening Democratic majorities in the Senate and House. He’s traveling to Illinois tonight to raise money for Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, who’s running for Obama’s former Senate seat.
There also are 37 gubernatorial elections next month, and Obama wants O’Malley, 47, to maintain a power base in the state capital for the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional districts.
Ehrlich was governor from 2003 to 2007, when he was the first Republican to head the state since 1969. Maryland’s Democrats outnumber Republicans about 2-to-1 in registrations. The state gave Obama 62 percent of the vote in 2008.
The race had been in the toss-up column for much of the summer until polls in the solidly Democratic state began showing O’Malley pulling ahead in the past week.
A Rasmussen poll Oct. 4 showed O’Malley with an 8-point advantage over Ehrlich. The survey of 750 likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
A Washington Post survey published Sept. 29 gave O’Malley an 11-point advantage. That poll taken Sept. 22-26 among 1,196 registered voters has an error margin of 3.5 percentage points.
“I have it as a tossup; I put a little thumb on the scale for O’Malley, but he’s going to have to fight for it,” said Jennifer Duffy, editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report in Washington.
Duffy said Obama is campaigning for O’Malley for the same reason he’s made trips elsewhere: to counter apathy among Democratic voters.
“Maryland should be one of those places where it’s easy to fire ‘em up,” Duffy said. “If Obama can rally the party faithful a little bit, that could make a really big difference for O’Malley.”
O’Malley is campaigning on spending for education, a program to create 5,700 jobs at the Port of Baltimore, tax credits to hire the unemployed and trimming the size of state government. Ehrlich, for his part, says the state “remains in an $8 billion hole” even after tax increases and federal stimulus money, and that the tax burden must be reduced.
“Clearly, you can’t count on the huge surge in voting when Obama was on the ticket in 2008,” said Adam Hoffman, professor of political science at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland, referring to the black voters and young voters who helped propel Obama’s presidential campaign.
The O’Malley-Ehrlich race is going to be won or lost in more diverse countries that are evenly split. “That’s where the battleground’s going to be,” he said.
O’Malley may also benefit from the state’s unemployment rate of 7.3 percent, which is lower than the 9.6 percent rate for the U.S. as a whole.
“Clearly, that’s going to inoculate O’Malley somewhat again this Democratic, anti-incumbent mood you see with a lot of voters,” Hoffman said.
About three dozen people fell and were treated by paramedics at the rally, local radio station WTOP reported, citing a spokesman for the county’s fire and emergency medical services department. People fainted or became dizzy, the spokesman, Mark Brady, told WTOP. The temperature was 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23 Celsius).
At least two people fainted in sight of the president, who called for a bottle of water and medical help from the podium.