Small-business group backs Ehrlich

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. won the backing Thursday of the National Federation of Independent Business, a nonprofit, small-business advocacy group.

The announcement doesn’t have the cachet of dueling New York mayoral endorsements and won’t get as much buzz as President Obama doing a radio ad for Gov. Martin O’Malley. But, in a race where both men are touting their business bona fides, it does mean something.

The fact that the NFIB is the voice of small business in Annapolis certainly gives Ehrlich another tool to use as he and O’Malley struggle over who has been, and will be, better for small businesses in the state.

“After four years of downturn and stagnation, we must create a business climate that allows entrepreneurs to create jobs for families and improve our overall quality of life.” Ehrlich said in a statement announcing the endorsement.  “As governor, I will treat small-business owners as a source of new jobs –- not a source of new tax revenue.”

Tim Goodrich, NFIB’s regional policy director, touched on many key points in Ehrlich’s platform in explaining the endorsement.

“He understands that 98 percent of the employers in this state are small businesses, and that the only way to boost employment is to create a more hospitable tax and regulatory environment,” Goodrich said.

Ehrlich’s announcement comes a week after O’Malley announced his own business backers — a list of 200 Maryland executives that support the Democrat in his re-election bid.

The NFIB often finds its positions aligned with those of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and other business advocacy groups, such as those representing retailers and restaurateurs. But it has broken with these groups in the past.

The first example that comes to mind for me is the unemployment insurance bill that was debated, declared dead, resuscitated, debated some more, overhauled and finally passed in the spring. Most business groups opposed unemployment insurance tax breaks in 2010, citing their fear of the long-term damage they would do to the UI system. The NFIB, however, quietly supported the tax break provision because of the immediate relief its members wanted.

Washington Post poll shows O’Malley pulling ahead

After months and months of the race between Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and challenger Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. churning inside the margins of error in poll after poll, The Washington Post released the results of a new survey Tuesday night that shows O’Malley ahead by 11 points.

The Post’s poll put the gap at 52-41 — among likely voters with a 4 percent margin of error — with five weeks left to go in a rematch of the 2006 gubernatorial contest, when O’Malley beat Ehrlich 53-46.

Just eight days ago, a Rasmussen poll showed the two men statistically tied (as they have been for much of the summer and early fall), with O’Malley’s 50-47 lead just within the 4 percent margin of error.

O’Malley, who carried a huge cash advantage into the race, has been outspending Ehrlich on the airwaves. O’Malley launched his first TV ads in the Baltimore market in July, while Ehrlich waited early September. (TBD.com has some quick analysis of the poll posted. And a hat tip to them for the tweet that called my attention to the poll.)

Despite the bottom-line number, there are some trends in the Post poll that mirrored those in other polls released on the race.

Ehrlich enjoys strong support in his own party and appears to be winning over more independents than O’Malley. But in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 and make up half of the likely voters, Ehrlich doesn’t seem to be making enough headway in building support across party lines.

Ehrlich pulled 22 percent of the Democratic vote in 2002, when he became the first Republican to be elected Maryland’s governor in a generation. The Post poll showed only 15 percent of Democrats back Ehrlich, and O’Malley has actually strengthened his hold on vote-rich Montgomery County.

And the economy remains the top issue for voters. According to the Post’s story, 43 percent of voters trust Ehrlich to handle the $1.1 billion budget shortfall, while 40 percent trust O’Malley. The paper takes this to mean that Ehrlich is in a tight spot because he’s already ahead on the top issue, but still behind in the race.

I’m not sure how strong the connection is between budget issues and economic woes in the minds of most people — gauging voters on who they trust to tackle unemployment would hit closer to that point — but it still can’t be seen as a positive for Ehrlich. It could indicate the issues and the records of the two men who have both held the office for four years aren’t important enough to sway a large swath of voters one way or the other.

O’Malley wins backing of 200 Md. biz leaders

Gov. Martin O’Malley announced Thursday he has the backing of 200 business leaders “from every corner of the state.”

The move hews closely with the the character of the governor’s race so far, and could bolster O’Malley’s street cred among business types after he lost some of his ammunition this week.

The race has been all about business and jobs, with both Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. jockeying to appear the best suited to kick the economy back into gear and get Marylanders back to work.

“We’re thrilled with the tremendous support we’re receiving from the Maryland business community. Job creators are backing our campaign because they know we are making the tough choices to invest in the future and position our state for future economic success,” O’Malley said in a written statement.

Ehrlich and his camp have criticized O’Malley’s record on tax increases and the job losses and economic turmoil that marked the Democrat’s time in the governor’s mansion. O’Malley was able to tout five straight months of job gains through much of the summer and into the start of the campaign season. But figures released by the state Tuesday showed Maryland lost jobs in August, and revised July figures showed losses then, too.

So, O’Malley’s five months of gains became four months of gains, followed by two months of losses. The Sun had a good story Thursday on what the change in Maryland’s job picture means for the campaigns.

O’Malley’s list does indeed present a diverse picture of supporters. They include top executives at some big Maryland names, like Mark Fetting of Legg Mason, Ed Hale of First Mariner Bank and Bill Roberts of Verizon Maryland. Other notable names include developers Patrick Turner and Thibault Manekin, as well as Pless Jones Sr., president of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association.

There are also plenty on the list who have worked closely with the governor, and have benefited from dealings with the state in his term. Christopher Lee is the chairman and CEO of Ports America Chesapeake, the company that leased the Seagirt Marine Terminal from the state in January. Norman R. Augustine, the former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., was a key part of the state’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to woo Northrop Grumman Corp. And Jay Davidson is heading the Baltimore Grand Prix effort, of which O’Malley has been an outspoken supporter.

Best lawmaker soup-strainers in Maryland

Tired of all that campaign coverage? The endless stumping, the polls and the promises about what the next four years could hold, or should hold?

TBD.com has an antidote for those of you who want to wean yourselves off that stuff but can’t quit Maryland politics cold turkey. Here it is, their list of the 10 best mustaches in the Maryland General Assembly.

The posting seems to have been inspired by the American Mustache Institute soliciting nominations for the  2010 Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year.

I’m far from a mustache expert, so I can’t tell if any of the delegates have a shot at taking home the Goulet. But I can tell you the Republicans should be worried. Their lone representative on the list, Richard Sossi, lost his primary election to the mustache-less Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (Sossi trails by 153 votes, according to unofficial results from the Board of Elections.)

Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell, who has been known to sport a mustache in the past, and Del. Andrew Serafini, who used to rock a serious ‘stache, but now goes clean-shaven, could keep the party in contention. In the spring, Serafini did an impression of fellow Western Maryland Del. Kevin Kelly, who made TBD’s list, using two pieces of electrical tape to replicate the Democrat’s mustache.

O’Donnell is more worried these days about picking up seats and taking advantage of the political climate to cut into the Democrats’ 3-1 majority in the House. But we’ll see how that top-10 list evolves as the new General Assembly heads back to Annapolis in January.

Update 5:26 p.m.

TBD has been mustache-crazed on Wednesday. They’ve posted a list of the top 10 mustaches in the Virginia General Assembly, too.

(You won’t, however, find the owner of that mystery mustache at the top of the post on a Va. official. It appears to belong to Doyle Niemann, the Prince George’s County delegate who has led many of the Maryland legislature’s efforts to combat the foreclosure crisis.)

Anyways, in Virginia, a Republican-leaning state, the GOP outnumbers Democrats 7-3 on the TBD list. Now two states don’t make a trend and we’ll certainly need more research to determine the link between state lawmaker mustaches and membership in dominant political parties. So if some political science grad student out there is looking for a thesis, I say have it. Just let us know what you find.

O’Malley has the edge in latest poll

Gov. Martin O’Malley holds a three-point edge over challenger former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., according to a Rasmussen Reports poll released Monday.

The first poll made public since the last week’s primary, when the O’Malley-Ehrlich rematch of 2006 was confirmed, showed 50 percent of likely voters siding with O’Malley, and 47 percent with Ehrlich.

O’Malley’s lead, however, is still within the four-point margin of error. Recent polls have showed the two candidates neck and neck. Rasmussen’s August poll showed O’Malley with a one-point lead, and its July poll had Ehrlich leading by a point.

With about six weeks left to go before Election Day, the poll isn’t yet a good barometer of who will be sitting in the Governor’s Mansion at the end of the year. It does show, however, just how few undecided voters (just 3 percent, compared with 8 percent last month) the candidates will be battling over during the remainder of the campaign.

The poll showed O’Malley with a 51 percent job approval rating — 25 percent said they “strongly approve” — but the governor apparently has less appeal to voters than his challenger does.

Fifty-four percent said they have a favorable view of O’Malley, while 58 percent view Ehrlich favorably.

Not surprisingly, 45 percent said the economy is the biggest issue heading into the General Election. More people said the job market is worse off today than it was a year ago, and more said they think the economy is getting worse. Nearly three-quarters of those polled said they know somebody who is out of work and looking for a job.

Another interesting tidbit – 56 percent approved (42 percent strongly) of the job President Obama is doing, but 60 percent said they were at lease “somewhat angry” with the current policies of the federal government. (Of course, the question “How angry are you at the current policies of the federal government?” is just a tad leading, no?)

The survey of 750 likely voters was conducted Sept. 15.

O’Malley on the offensive

Gov. Martin O’Malley didn’t waste any time after Tuesday’s primary election.

The Democrat incumbent bought airtime across the state for a TV and radio ad attacking the credibility and record of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as the votes were still being tallied.

The ad (which we’ve had trouble embedding; click here to watch it) features clips of Ehrlich discussing raising fees during his term, but not taxes, mixed in with people criticizing the distinction.

In a clip the ad uses twice, Ehrlich tells a questioner, “There’s a big difference between fees and taxes.”

A series of quick shots of people saying “It’s a tax” are mixed in.

“If it comes out of my pocket, it’s a tax,” another woman says.

“Typical politician,” a man says near the end of the 30-second spot.

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