Poll shows Sarbanes with commanding lead over GOP challengers

June 23, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes continues to hold a commanding lead over three Republican rivals in his campaign for a fourth term, according to a statewide poll released yesterday.

The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research for The Sun and other news organizations, found that in head-to-head competition, the Democratic senator outpaced each challenger by a ratio of more than 2 to 1.

It also found that nearly one quarter of respondents view the incumbent unfavorably.

The three Republicans -- former Tennessee Sen. William E. Brock, developer Ruthann Aron and state Del. C. Ronald Franks -- are running in the Sept. 13 primary for the right to challenge Mr. Sarbanes in the November general election.

But all three remain mostly unknown, the poll found. More than half of the 818 people surveyed said they had never heard of them.

Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon, said Mr. Sarbanes still could be vulnerable.

"There is the potential for him to lose the election," Mr. Coker said. "I would point out, however, that none of the Republicans is lighting a fire under anybody yet. To win this seat, they are going to have to have a dynamic candidate."

Mr. Sarbanes' camp reacted confidently to the poll results yesterday. Campaign manager Michael Davis said that every six years, "Republicans claim he's vulnerable, has high negatives and . . . he wins."

The poll, conducted June 16-18, showed Mr. Sarbanes holding a lead of 50 percent to Mrs. Aron's 22 percent in a mock general election. He leads Mr. Brock 52 percent to 23 percent and Delegate Franks, 53 percent to 19 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

On the Republican side, the primary remains wide open. Among likely GOP voters, the poll found Mr. Brock in the lead with 14 percent, Mrs. Aron following with 11 percent and Delegate Franks with 5 percent. But most voters are undecided.

By and large, respondents from both parties did not recognize any of the Republican candidates. Fifty-five percent said they did not know Mr. Brock; 74 percent didn't recognize Mrs. Aron and 78 percent didn't recognize Delegate Franks.

As might be expected, the Republicans downplayed their anonymity, pointing out that many voters will not focus on the race until the final weeks before the primary.

"That's what a campaign is all about," said former Senator Brock, who now lives in Annapolis. "In all candor, I can't imagine anyone who can be surprised with those numbers."

Mrs. Aron, who is running an outsider, anti-incumbent campaign, attributed Senator Sarbanes' showing to name recognition.

"If you give people the right kind of alternative, they are ready for a change," the Montgomery County developer said.

Of his third-place showing, Delegate Franks, an Eastern Shore dentist, said: "It sounds like we're still in the ball game."

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