By ABBY BROWNBACK
ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 7, 2010)—For all their campaigning, fundraising, advertising and debating, Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Gov. Bob Ehrlich are essentially tied, according to several recent polls.
Perhaps, though, a better way to voters' hearts is through their stomachs. In that case, Marylanders' choice for governor this fall is between an incumbent roast beef and provolone sandwich and its challenger, a crab cake wrap—and Ehrlich is enjoying a comfortable lead.
Chick and Ruth's Delly, an Annapolis staple, features menu items named for Maryland politicos who frequent the restaurant, including the two widely known candidates for governor.
Ehrlich's—the $9.50 wrap—outsold O'Malley's-- the $7.25 roast beef—almost 3-to-2 from May through August. So in a head-to-head contest, Ehrlich trumped O'Malley 59 percent to 41 percent this summer.
The election hasn't affected sales, said owner Ted Levitt, but he can tell which politicians are popular with customers.
"If they're not too popular, (customers) order by number," he said. "Or you'll hear them say, 'Oh, never mind. I don't want that.' When they like the people, they say the name out loud."
Jim Wilcox, a longtime Annapolis resident, doesn't order either sandwich, but if he had to choose he would go with Ehrlich's.
"I wouldn't order his (O'Malley's) sandwich if he gave it to me," Wilcox said. "Ehrlich? I'd eat his sandwich."
Joe Fondale, though, said he would order O'Malley's roast beef sandwich, if only because he enjoys a similar item, Chick and Ruth's corned beef.
Levitt renames menu items after each election cycle. When he was governor, Ehrlich's sandwich was a white-meat turkey on wheat toast.
The turkey sandwich was retired after O'Malley took office in 2007 and his name took its place next to the roast beef sandwich. But soon thereafter, Chick and Ruth's introduced the crab cake wrap and named it for the former governor, a friend of the family.
The second Ehrlich-O'Malley gubernatorial contest (the first was in 2006, when O'Malley defeated Ehrlich) is an enigma, Levitt said, even for someone as entrenched with the locals as he is.
"You do hear a lot," he said. "But people, they have no clue. You can't tell who's going to win, and this is probably the first time you don't know."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.