A WBAL-TV poll shows that Roger B. Hayden, the Republican challenger in the race for Baltimore County executive, is running about even with incumbent Dennis F. Rasmussen, but that many voters are still undecided.
Mr. Hayden has the support of 43.6 percent of the county's likely voters, Mr. Rasmussen has 41 percent and 15.4 percent are undecided, according to the poll.
The poll, conducted by Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at Western Maryland College, has a margin of error of 5 percentage points. Some 431 registered voters were interviewed Oct. 22-24.
Mr. Smith said 72 percent of those who support Mr. Hayden said they were actually voting against Mr. Rasmussen.
He added that 63 percent of those polled either had no opinion of Mr. Hayden or did not know him.
"I think it means the election's a tossup right now," said Mr. Smith, who has conducted polls since 1983.
The poll reported that 43 percent had a favorable opinion of Mr. Rasmussen and 45 percent had an unfavorable opinion. By contrast, 38 percent had a favorable impression of Mr. Hayden and 8 percent had an unfavorable impression.
Mr. Hayden and his supporters said the poll confirms what they have been saying for months -- voters are turned off by Mr. Rasmussen and have been won over by the challenger's call for fiscal constraint.
"I think it shows that his media blitz has not been paying off," said Mr. Hayden, 45, of Baldwin. "People are dissatisfied with what's been happening over the past four years."
But Mr. Rasmussen said the poll comes from responses taken over a week ago, before his blitz of television commercials and his brochure distribution shifted into high gear. He added that the electorate is always volatile in the weeks before the election.
"Voters don't really begin to focus until the last week before the election," said Mr. Rasmussen, 43, of Kingsville. "As people get into these concluding five or six days, emotions become less of a factor and people will begin to seriously look at the candidates."
Ted Venetoulis, WBAL-TV's political commentator and a former Democratic Baltimore County executive, said the poll shows that Mr. Rasmussen is weakest in geographic areas where he should be strongest -- in the heavily Democratic precincts of eastern Baltimore County.
The poll shows that Mr. Rasmussen has only 30 percent of the vote in the eastern portions of the county, which includes the traditional Democratic strongholds of Essex and Dundalk. The poll shows that Mr. Hayden has 55 percent of the vote in the eastern communities, Mr. Venetoulis said.
Mr. Rasmussen was born and reared in Essex and represented the 6th Legislative District, which includes Essex, in three terms in the General Assembly.
"It means he has to win over areas where he should be politically in the strongest position," Mr. Venetoulis said.