Marylanders give Clinton slight edge

March 23, 1995|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

President Clinton holds a slight lead over some potential Republican candidates -- but would be defeated soundly in Maryland by retired Gen. Colin L. Powell -- if next year's presidential election were today, a new poll shows.

Mr. Powell -- who some consider a possible candidate, although he has not indicated any plans to run -- was favored over Mr. Clinton, 48 percent to 37 percent, in the poll by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc. of Columbia. The rest of the respondents were undecided.

But in a more likely scenario, Mr. Clinton is in a statistical dead heat with Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas. The president has a lead of 47 percent to 46 percent over Mr. Dole, who, the poll shows, is the early Republican front-runner among likely GOP voters. Those results mirror recent nationwide polls.

"If someone put a gun to my head, I would say Bill Clinton would carry Maryland," said Del Ali, Mason-Dixon vice president. "But, at this point, Bob Dole still would be formidable."

Like other political observers, Mr. Ali dismissed the significance of General Powell's numbers in the poll because if he ran -- "and that's a big if" -- the figures would dip dramatically as he became a known quantity.

Matched up against two other Republican candidates, Mr. Clinton is ahead with "less than impressive margins . . . given his current name recognition," Mr. Ali said.

In other trial heats, Mr. Clinton gets 44 percent backing compared with 35 percent for Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. The president is the choice of 48 percent when matched against Alan L. Keyes, the conservative radio talk-show host from Montgomery County. Mr. Keyes draws 32 percent support.

"It's fair to say that things could change dramatically as the year goes on," Mr. Ali said, noting that Maryland's primary is next March and the general election is still 20 months away.

The poll, which was conducted for The Sun and other news organizations, was based on telephone interviews Wednesday through Saturday of last week with 808 randomly selected Marylanders who said they vote regularly. The poll's margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The survey showed that Mr. Clinton also is regaining his popularity among Maryland voters, with 49 percent of them having a favorable opinion of him, up from 40 percent in July 1994, when he hit the lowest point since taking office.

But at the same time, more Marylanders -- 39 percent -- now have an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Clinton than they have since he took office, the poll shows.

Nevertheless, Larry S. Gibson, who headed Mr. Clinton's election effort in Maryland in 1992, was heartened by the latest poll.

"Now that voters are beginning to look at specific comparisons, in terms of alternatives, Clinton does better," said Mr. Gibson, who is also the political strategist and campaign manager for Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "I think Clinton and the Democrats have bottomed out."

Not so, said Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party.

"For a sitting president, this is dangerously low at this time," Ms. Terhes said.

In the Republican field -- with Mr. Powell not in the race -- Mr. Dole remains far and away the leader, capturing support of 42 percent of Maryland's likely GOP primary vote, with a significant 17 percent undecided.

Mr. Dole is trailed by Mr. Gramm, 22 percent; California Gov. Pete Wilson, 8 percent; conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, 5 percent; Mr. Keyes and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, each 3 percent.

No measureable support was registered in the poll for Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar or for Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.

Those figures were developed from telephone interviews with 227 Republicans polled. The margin of error in this section of the poll -- a much smaller sample -- is plus or minus 6.9 percentage points.

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