"A must-attend event," Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) called it. "A political right of passage."
"A must-stop in an election year," said former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) .
With those similar assessments, coming a few minutes apart, Maryland's two major candidates for governor arrived at the 34th Annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield, where both would spend the next couple of hours working the sprawling crowd outside the town's marina, their running mates in tow.
In many respects, Wednesday's sweat-drenched affair was a metaphor for this year's campaign: two very well-known candidates, occupying the same familiar territory but never actually engaging one another. The two hopefuls were so familiar, in fact, that many of the 5,000 or so in attendance seemed unmoved by their presence as they enjoyed the $40 all-you-can-eat-and-drink assortment of steamed crabs, fried fish, clams, corn on the cob, watermelon and beer. Perhaps the only surprise of the afternoon was the extent to which the O'Malley team out-organized the Ehrlich camp. As festival-goers arrived at the event site in the Eastern Shore community, they were greeted by far more neon-green O'Malley signs, of all sizes and assortments, than those advertising Ehrlich's comeback campaign. When the current governor arrived around 2 p.m., he was a greeted by a larger, more boisterous, more orchestrated group of supporters and volunteers than was the former governor -- who hung back in a parking lot until the Democratic incumbent moved on before making his entrance.
It's not clear that the contrast necessarily worked against Ehrlich. A large part of the Republican's appeal is his ability to relate to voters on their level. Minutes after a throng of reporters peppered O'Malley with questions about policy and campaign strategy, Ehrlich told the same group that he was there hoping "to just have fun today." Later asked by a reporter about the importance of the clambake to the campaign, Ehrlich responded with typical bluntness, saying: "It's not that important to the overall race."
The two running mates -- Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) and former secretary of state Mary D. Kane (R) -- both appeared to put a little more thought into their outfits than their principals. O'Malley and Ehrlich both donned polo shirts that they no doubt had received gratis for being governor. Ehrlich wore shorts.
As always, the event drew dozens of other politicians seeking statewide and local offices. Brian Murphy, a long-shot Republican candidate for governor, was on hand, with a merry band of supporters, as were some of the largely unknown GOP candidates with dreams of toppling Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) this year. Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) stood out for his congeniality. As Ehrlich worked some of the tents sponsored by corporations and candidates, Franchot went out of his way to say hello and shake hands. In their long, overlapping political careers, the two have often had unkind things to say about one another. But at Tawes, it was all smiles. Ehrlich even said he looked forward to working again with Franchot.
At that point, a spokesman for the comptroller was quick to point out to a lurking reporter that Franchot had greeted the current governor as well. SOURCE: Washington Post