Maryland Republican Party leaders seem to think the Eastern Shore likes hate mail.
Republicans have mailed out a photo-shopped picture portraying Del. Norm Conway in a scary ski mask. They sent the picture, together with glaring distortions of Conway’s stands on issues, to every voter in Conway’s Salisbury district. The reverse side of the mailer continues the theme with a picture shadowed by prison bars. The Times newspaper of Salisbury is on the story like a blanket.
As the newspaper report points out, it’s rare for politics to get this ugly on the Shore, where good manners are the norm. The Times makes haste to note that the hate mail did not originate on the Eastern Shore. The reporter traced the over-the-top negative advertising to the executive director of the Maryland Republican Party in Annapolis. Conway’s Republican opponent in District 38B, Carl Anderton renounced the negative advertising.
Conway, a moderate-to-conservative Democrat, is used to attack campaigns from Republicans. A former Salisbury city councilman and volunteer fire chief, Conway has represented the Lower Eastern Shore (District 38) in the General Assembly for as long as most people can remember. He was re-elected with little if any opposition until former governor Bob Ehrlich targeted him for defeat. (Ehrlich, of course, is not from Eastern Shore. He’s a product of the Baltimore suburbs, start to finish.)
Republican negativity startled Conway when Ehrlich first introduced it. But the people of his district know Conway well, and they’ve continued to re-elect him. One reason is that Conway is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. The Eastern Shore relishes the power Conway wields in the General Assembly.
The Times noted that Republicans also have a negative web address targeting Sen. Jim Mathias, who also represents District 38. The url, http://liberaljim.com redirects web surfers to the home page of Mike McDermott, the Republican candidate opposing Mathias. McDermott’s web site, headlined “No mud . . . Just the facts,” has been redesigned to attack Mathias. McDermott must be feeling pretty desperate if his web page has to lead with a denial that he’s throwing mud.
The Times has received complaints from voters about the hate mail, and printed two letters on the editorial page. One letter writer called the ski-mask mailer “despicable and misleading.”
Conway has always been the clear favorite to win in the new, gerrymandered District 38B. The backlash from the hate mail may hand him a landslide victory.
The District 38 Senate contest has been considered tight with Mathias possibly the winner by a nose. But McDermott’s attack web page might turn off people who would otherwise consider voting Republican. Look for Mathias to win by a full length after this episode.
Many people in District 38 disapprove of the Democratic Party. In fact, it’s not difficult to find people on the Shore who truly hate Democrats.
But Jim Mathias, former mayor of Ocean City, has about 99 percent name recognition in his district. Most year-round residents in the Ocean City area like Mathias personally, even if they disagree on some issues. In the most recent General Assembly sessions, Mathias has taken pains to reflect the district’s conservative opinions on issues. I once heard a Realtor say, “I love Jim, but I’m voting Republican.” That sentiment might be changing. Under the new circumstances, Mathias could win going away.
The other Democratic candidates in District 38, Percy Purnell (38A) and Judy Davis (38C) have been considered underdogs in elections that probably will be close. They can only benefit from any increase in sympathy for Mathias and Conway.
— John Hayden