Sauerbrey, Glendening in dead heat CAMPAIGN 1994

November 06, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer John W. Frece contributed to this article.

With two days to go and momentum on her side, Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey has pulled nearly even with Democrat Parris N. Glendening in a new independent poll, narrowing the odds that Maryland will elect its first GOP chief executive in three decades on Tuesday.

The poll shows Mr. Glendening, the three-term Prince George's County executive, clinging to a razor-thin 47 percent to 45 percent lead over Mrs. Sauerbrey, but the survey's error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points makes the race a virtual dead heat.

More importantly, Mr. Glendening has been becalmed since the Sept. 13 primary election, his standing stalled in the 47 percent to 48 percent range, while Mrs. Sauerbrey, the Republican leader of the Maryland House, has inched up steadily in the polls, from 40 percent in September to her current 45 percent.

As has been the case for weeks, Mr. Glendening's chances of beating back Mrs. Sauerbrey's challenge hinge on turning out black voters in the Democratic strongholds of Baltimore City and Prince George's County and fashioning a convincing win in populous Montgomery County.

Mr. Glendening continues to run strongly in the city and Prince George's, but the poll shows that his support has slipped slightly in Montgomery -- from 57 percent to 54 percent -- while the Republican nominee has surged from 33 percent to 40 percent.

Political observers maintain that Mr. Glendening cannot win without taking at least 55 percent of the vote in Montgomery, which produces nearly one-fifth of the statewide vote. If turnout is low in Baltimore and Prince George's, he is said to need upward of 60 percent.

One thing is clear. A victory by Mr. Glendening can come only with overwhelming support from blacks, who historically vote Democratic, as he has only modest backing from whites, among whom he trails Mrs. Sauerbrey 56 percent to 36 percent.

The last Republican governor in Maryland -- where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 -- was Spiro T. Agnew, who captured the State House in 1966 as Democrats deserted the party nominee, George P. Mahoney, because of a platform viewed by many as racist.

The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research for The Sun and other news organizations, surveyed 1,110 voters by phone Wednesday through Friday. Respondents were selected at random. All said they were likely to vote on Tuesday.

Mrs. Sauerbrey's climb in the polls, built on a pledge to slash personal income taxes by 24 percent over four years, has come in the face of a withering barrage of Glendening attack television ads aimed at painting her as a right-wing extremist.

The ads have had an impact. The poll shows that Mrs. Sauerbrey, a self-proclaimed "agent of change," is now viewed unfavorably by 30 percent of respondents, compared with 19 percent in a similar poll three weeks ago.

The poll continues to display a reverse gender gap in which Mrs. Sauerbrey -- who, if elected, would be the state's first female chief executive -- is running behind Mr. Glendening 52 percent to 38 percent among women while she leads among men 52 percent to 42 percent.

Brad Coker, president of Mason Dixon, explained those results by saying Mrs. Sauerbrey's tax cut promise appeals more to men while Mr. Glendening's emphasis on gun control, abortion rights and environmental protection is more attractive to women.

Mr. Glendening reacted to the Mason-Dixon results by asserting that his own internal polls show him currently favored by more than 50 percent of the state's voters and leading Mrs. Sauerbrey by more than 10 percent.

"Our polls look very good, I'm optimistic and excited about the future," he said. But, he conceded, "It will be tight."

Mrs. Sauerbrey greeted the poll results, especially her gains in Montgomery County, with a smile and the words, "Oh, boy."

"The amazing thing, he's probably spent over $1 million on attack ads to present me as something I'm not, and it's not working," she said. "That accounts for the unfavorables.

"He's coming across now as a very desperate candidate," she said. "He has no message of his own. He says reducing taxes isn't good for people, but that message isn't working."

Mrs. Sauerbrey also noted that a Mason-Dixon poll a week before the primary had her running 13 points behind her chief primary rival, U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley. Mrs. Sauerbrey went on to win by 14 points.

"I think Mason-Dixon dramatically underestimated my numbers in the primary, and I'm banking on the same phenomenon in the general," she said. "My support is very committed support."

Informed of the latest poll standings, Baltimore Kurt L. Schmoke, one of Mr. Glendening's most fervent supporters, said, "Well, then, turnout becomes the key."

The mayor said he anticipated a "good" turnout of Baltimore voters, but expressed concern that the lack of electoral battles in the overwhelmingly Democratic city, where most races were settled in the primary, might keep some residents from the polls.

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