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Candidates For Maryland Governor Square Off In First Debate

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Last night's first debate between Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and his Republican rival former Gov. Bob Ehrlich displayed the candidates contrasting message, and set the tone for the next three weeks.

O'Malley, a Democrat, set out to convince voters that he made the decisions in difficult times designed to move Maryland forward.

Ehrlich says O'Malley is guilty of telling what he called "half stories."

"If this one program was so important to you, why didn't you fund it? You funded it with surplus dollars didn't you?," Ehrlich says.

Later O'Malley reacted to the hour-long debate.

"Both of us have records, and the public needs to weigh the alternatives here," says O'Malley.

Montgomery County coordinator for the Ehrlich campaign, Katia Bullock, says much of the misinformation her candidate attempted to point out comes from campaign ads.

"For a sitting governor to come out with nothing but attacks, the news media should have criticized him right from the beginning," Bullock says.

O’Malley enjoys an 8 to 11 point lead in the most recent popular polling.

While some might think it best to nurse this lead to the election, O’Malley says each debate is important.

"I think the people are owed debates, look, I’m a servant and so are the other people who run the government. So the public deserves to hear from us and make up their mind in an informed way," O'Malley says.

A second debate is scheduled for this Thursday, co-sponsored by WUSA-TV and WAMU.

Related video from NBC4:

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcwashington.com/video.

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