Ehrlich Says Rival's Ads Politicize Sniper killings.(METROPOLITAN)

Article excerpt

Byline: S.A. Miller, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Republican gubernatorial nominee and U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that his Democratic opponent's new television ads in Montgomery County attacking his gun policies had "crossed the line" by politicizing the unsolved sniper slayings in the Washington area.

"There is a line, though, that most campaigns generally do not cross. It appears that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's campaign has decided to cross it," Mr. Ehrlich said after speaking at the Women's Community Club of Kensington.

Lt. Gov. Townsend, the Democratic nominee whose father and uncle were assassinated by gunmen, later said that gun control has been a key issue in her campaign since before the sniper attacks.

"I have had a lot of tragedy in my life because of guns, and I know the pain of losing somebody. I don't want other Marylanders to feel that pain," Mrs. Townsend said after signing a pact with black political leaders at a news conference in Baltimore.

It remains unclear whether the issue of gun control will sway Montgomery County voters - a pivotal voting bloc in deciding a governor's race that has been overshadowed for nearly two weeks by the serial sniper.

A poll to be released today will show that the governor's race is still a dead heat, although Mrs. Townsend has pulled ahead of Mr. Ehrlich within the poll's margin of error. It also will reveal that gun control has become a more important issue for voters, but a majority of voters believe TV campaign ads on gun are inappropriate in light of the shooting spree.

"The gun control issue bumped up on the radar screen. Where it was nonexistent, single digits before, now it is double digits," said Larry Harris, a pollster for Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., which conducted the poll for WRC-TV Channel 4 and the Journal newspapers.

Mr. Harris said that having a serial sniper on the loose was bound to hurt Mr. Ehrlich among voters who don't have an allegiance to either the gun-control or gun-rights lobbies.

Nevertheless, he said, Mrs. Townsend has to avoid appearing as though she is manipulating the tragic shootings for political gain.

"She's got to be careful," Mr. Harris said. …