Sarbanes widens his lead CAMPAIGN 1994

September 01, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes has widened his lead over his three main Republican challengers in the past six weeks, according to a recent poll.

In a general election match-up, the Democratic incumbent would beat any of his potential Republican opponents by at least 24 percentage points, the poll showed. His margin against each of the three leading Republicans was larger than it was in mid-July.

Meanwhile, with less than two weeks to go before the Sept. 13 primary, the race for the Republican senate nomination appears wide open with no candidate garnering more than 23 percent of the vote and 37 percent of GOP primary voters reporting themselves as still undecided.

Political observers attributed part of Mr. Sarbanes' increased lead to television advertisements he began running last week that emphasize his Maryland roots as well as his work to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. The Sarbanes campaign, though, credited the senator's position on the recently passed crime bill and his work to keep interest rates down.

The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research in Columbia for The Sun and other news organizations, showed former Tennessee Sen. Bill Brock with 23 percent of the vote, Montgomery County developer Ruthann Aron with 20 percent and first-term state Del. C. Ronald Franks with 14 percent. Retired Baltimore surgeon and perennial candidate Ross Z. Pierpont had 6 percent.

One professor who conducts polls was skeptical of the results, though, pointing out that the poll's sample of Republicans who say they vote regularly -- 228 -- was small and has a margin of error of plus or minus almost 7 percentage points. (For the general election trial heats, using a sample of 824 Democrats, Republicans and independents, the margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.)

"Primary polling is very iffy," said Herbert C. Smith, a professor of political science at Western Maryland College, who noted that the three leading candidates were all within in the poll's margin of error.

Del Ali, vice president of Mason-Dixon, said the results showed a three-way dead heat.

"Realistically, it probably will come down to Brock and Aron, because they have the most money," said Mr. Ali, "but Franks is still there."

Mr. Smith said he thought the race would be decided in the final days based on who has enough money to reach voters with TV and radio ads and whose operation can bring out the most supporters on election day.

The Republican campaigns all found good news in yesterday's results. "We're very happy to be in the No. 1 position," said Erin O'Brien, the Brock campaign press secretary.

Mr. Franks said he was glad to be so close given that Mr. Brock and Ms. Aron have vastly outspent him in the race. He predicted he could win the race with 60,000 votes, a showing that he said is "not an impossibility at all."

Ms. Aron noted that she had the best showing against Mr. Sarbanes in a general election match-up, taking 30 percent to the incumbent's 54 percent. "As soon as the primary is over and we get to go head-to-head with Sarbanes, we will make tremendous inroads," she said.

The campaign took an unusually personal turn earlier this week when Ms. Aron invoked the memory of her recently slain father during a televised forum to argue for stiffer prison sentences and more police. Ms. Aron's father, David Greenzweig, was beaten to death during an apparent robbery last week at his home in upstate New York.

Yesterday, Ms. Aron spoke for the first time publicly about her relationship with her father, whom she said she had not seen in years.

She described the relationship as "difficult," and said that many of their differences has arisen out of her parents' divorce.

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