Md. Democratic Candidates Seek to Mobilize Union Support

By DAVID SILVERMAN, Capital News Service

BALTIMORE - The four candidates at top of the Maryland Democratic ticket joined forces Tuesday for a boisterous rally with their core supporters--public employee unions--to paint Republicans as bedfellows of special interests and attack them on issues ranging from the minimum wage to access to health care to education.

"We run for moms and dads who are working sometimes three jobs between the two of them," Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley told more than four hundred retirees at a luncheon hosted by the Maryland Retirees chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME.)

The animated crowd, many wearing light green "retirees for O'Malley" shirts cheered loudly for the candidates, interrupting them repeatedly with applause.

"And then they watch from afar while the governor vetoes a modest increase in the minimum wage but is ready to let us get gored by a 72 percent rate increase," said O'Malley, the ticket's candidate for governor, referring to a proposed rise in electricity costs that became a major political issue this year.

O'Malley teamed with U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Baltimore, Comptroller candidate Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery, and Attorney General candidate Doug Gansler, the Montgomery County state's attorney, in exhorting union workers to vote in droves in the November 7 election.

The Democratic-leaning crowd provided the candidates with a great opportunity to fire up supporters by delivering a message of "expanding opportunities," said Cardin.

"I am concerned about turn out," he said after the luncheon. "This is a critical election about the direction of the state and the nation. This gives us a chance to reach voters and increase turn out."

O'Malley defended his record as mayor on crime and education, while calling the governor "pathetic" for his attacks on Baltimore schools.

O'Malley and Cardin continued to tie Ehrlich and Cardin's Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele to President George W. Bush.

"Bob Ehrlich's friends are that one percent that are doing better under George Bush," said O'Malley.

Cardin drew applause for outlining his support for universal health care and his opposition to Bush's tax cuts, which he said Steele supported.

Franchot vowed to be a friend to labor interests if elected comptroller. He faces Republican Anne McCarthy in the race to serve on the state's Board of Public Works. "When the union is strong, when AFSCME is strong, the Democratic Party is strong," he said.

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