Sauerbrey is gaining on Bentley CAMPAIGN 1994

September 11, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

Ellen R. Sauerbrey continues to inch up on front-runner Helen Delich Bentley in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination while Parris N. Glendening retains a seemingly insurmountable lead among Democrats, a poll released yesterday shows.

Mrs. Bentley, the five-term congresswoman from Baltimore County, leads Mrs. Sauerbrey 45 percent to 32 percent in the poll of likely GOP voters in Tuesday's primary.

But the gap has narrowed in the past week and a half from 17 percentage points to 13 percentage points, suggesting the race has become far more competitive than seemed likely in midsummer.

The poll, conducted Sept. 7 and Sept. 8 by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research of Columbia for The Sun and other news organizations, found that 16 percent of Republicans remain undecided -- a significant cache of voters up for grabs.

Still, with two days until the primary, Mrs. Sauerbrey, the Republican leader of the Maryland House, faces a tough climb as the better-financed Mrs. Bentley seems finally to have realized she has a race on her hands and has mounted a heavy radio and television advertising blitz.

If Mrs. Bentley survives the Sauerbrey charge, a narrow primary victory could find her limping into the general election race rather than charging from the gate, a possibly significant handicap in a state where Democrats hold a 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration.

Building on a base of black and suburban Washington voters, Mr. Glendening, the Prince George's County executive, continues to run well in every section of the state. He is leading his closest rival, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, 45 percent to 20 percent, among likely Democratic primary voters.

Trailing farther were two state senators, American Joe Miedusiewski of Baltimore and Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County, with 13 percent and 10 percent, respectively. The undecided vote dropped from 21 percent to 10 percent since the last poll, taken Aug. 26 to Aug. 28, indicating that all but a few Democrats have made their choices.

Mr. Glendening commands the support of 61 percent of blacvoters statewide and 56 percent of all voters in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, the poll shows. Even more impressive, he is running strong in the Baltimore region, matching the combined total of two home-grown opponents.

According to the poll, Mr. Glendening has the backing of 40 percent of Baltimore area voters, compared with 23 percent for Mr. Steinberg, who lives in Pikesville, and 18 percent for Mr. Miedusiewski, who has represented an East Baltimore district for 20 years.

The poll indicates that Mr. Steinberg's monthlong anti-Glendening radio and television ad campaign has had little effect. Mr. Glendening's negative rating stands at 14 percent, compared with 10 percent in late August, while Mr. Steinberg's negatives rose from 14 percent to 19 percent.

For the poll, 581 likely Democratic primary voters and 368 likely Republican voters selected at random were surveyed by phone. The margin of error was no more than plus or minus 4.1 percentage points in the Democratic sample, 5.2 percentage points among Republicans.

Pollster Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon, said Mr. Glendening seems to have taken control of the Democratic race.

"He may not carry every county, but he'll carry most of them," including vote-laden Prince George's, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties, probably Baltimore City and possibly Baltimore County, he said. If the poll accurately reflects voter sentiments, the only drama left is on the GOP side, where Mrs. Sauerbrey has doggedly and often harshly hammered away at Mrs. Bentley, calling her a big spender and a carbon copy of her Democratic friend, Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Mr. Coker said the likelihood of Mrs. Sauerbrey overtaking Mrs. Bentley in the time remaining was not great, but he would not rule it out. He noted that support for Mrs. Bentley has hovered near its current 45 percent since early in the year, while Mrs. Sauerbrey has steadily increased her popularity, surging from 14 percent in late July to her present 32 percent level.

Said Mrs. Sauerbrey, "Obviously I'm delighted. What the poll is saying is that I continue to surge forward." Of Mrs. Bentley, she said, "I think her support is soft. "

Gordon Hensley, a Bentley spokesman, said, "After all the hype and spin, Election Day is the final arbiter of the truth. Mrs. Bentley is very confident based on private data privy to her and based on a solid and consistent front-runner status in all public polls."

Retired diplomat William S. Shepard, a third GOP candidate who drew 7 percent in the poll, said, "It does show is that it is difficult for someone who is not a career elected politician to break in. Other than that, our volunteers are out there working."

Reaction to the poll from Democratic candidates was predictable.

Emily Smith, Mr. Glendening's campaign manager, hailed the results. "We think this once again proves that running a positive campaign is what Maryland voters want and that negative attacks and mudslinging don't work."

The trailing Democrats questioned the reliability of the poll.

"The Sun has never given us an even break and I don't trust this poll at all," said Peter A. Bozick, Mr. Steinberg's campaign manager.

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