ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The advertising war in the Maryland gubernatorial race heated up Thursday as the two major party candidates released new television spots attacking the other's record on crime.
Republican Rep. Robert Ehrlich's new ad, running in the Baltimore market, says hundreds of criminals may have purchased handguns because the state did not conduct background checks.
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend counter-punches with a spot that calls Ehrlich the "NRA candidate for governor" and claims he "doesn't want to enforce gun laws, he wants to repeal them." The ad is to begin airing in the Baltimore and Washington markets on Friday.
The ads are being released as police as a massive three-week sniper manhunt drew to a close in the Washington region.
The shootings enveloped the Washington suburbs in fear and uncertainty — particularly Montgomery County, where the mostly Democratic voters will play a pivotal role in deciding the tightly contested gubernatorial contest.
For the first week after the shootings, Ehrlich and Townsend declined to comment on them, saying they didn't wish to politicize the deaths. Townsend then released an ad assailing Ehrlich for voting "against banning assault weapons and cheap handguns."
Ehrlich's campaign called it "shameless" to run the ad while the sniper was still at large; Townsend's camp said they were merely pointing out the marked difference between the two candidates on crime and gun control issues.
On Thursday, Townsend spokesman Peter Hamm said "it's clear that Congressman Ehrlich wants to talk about responsible gun laws, so let's talk about responsible gun laws."
Ehrlich's new ad begins and ends with a photo of Townsend smiling as she stands next to Gov. Parris Glendening, whom she has served under for eight years. The spot criticizes Townsend on three fronts for her role overseeing criminal justice for the administration.
First, it cites FBI figures showing Maryland has the highest rate of robbery in the nation, and third highest murder rate. Then it notes that "Kathleen Townsend's juvenile boot camps were forced shut. Kids were beaten and abused by guards."
Finally, it accuses "Glendening-Townsend" of failing to perform background checks required under federal law for gun purchasers this year, allowing hundreds to buy guns illegally.
"They've had eight years to get it right," the ad concludes. "It's time for a change."
Hamm counters that while Maryland historically has had high rates of violent crime, FBI figures have shown that robbery, rape and murder rates have declined the last eight years. Crime overall is at its lowest level since 1975, he said, and the failure to conduct background check was corrected promptly.
"When Bob Ehrlich questions the effectiveness of gun laws, it's because he's trying to build a case to do away with gun laws," Hamm said.