Evidence that the mayoral race is tightening continued to emerge yesterday, as a second opinion poll showed that mayoral challenger Mary Pat Clarke has pulled to within six percentage points of incumbent Kurt L. Schmoke.
The poll released yesterday by WBAL-TV Channel 11 showed Mr. Schmoke ahead 51 percent to 45 percent of the voters questioned with 5 percent undecided.
That buttressed the results of a poll conducted last week of 435 likely Democratic primary voters by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research for The Sun and WMAR-TV Channel 2 that showed Mrs. Clarke has pulled within six percentage points of Mr. Schmoke with 20 percent of the voters undecided. Mr. Schmoke led Mrs. Clarke by 15 percentage points a month ago.
Ken Dautrich, associate director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, said the closeness of the two polls and other polls could suggest that the Democratic race for mayor of Baltimore might turn into a series of negative clashes in the final weeks. He cited the close 1993 New Jersey gubernatorial campaign between incumbent Gov. James J. Florio and challenger Christine Todd Whitman, which turned into a Whitman victory after she agreed to use negative advertising against Mr. Florio in the campaign's final week.
"If I were the incumbent mayor and ahead by only six points . . . three weeks before the primary, I'd think the only way we're going to pull this off is if we go negative -- go negative or you lose your job."
Mr. Schmoke apparently has gotten the message.
Political pollsters have been telephoning city voters to ask tough questions about the Democratic mayoral challenger, Mrs. Clarke. Political insiders say the poll is being conducted by Mr. Schmoke's campaign and seems to be geared toward identifying a negative theme that the incumbent can promote about Mrs. Clarke and her campaign.
This latest campaign poll is being conducted by the Garin-Hart Strategic Research Group of Washington. Voters have been asked whether their support for one mayoral candidate would be influenced if they knew that Mrs. Clarke, the president of the City Council, had accepted a $4,000 campaign contribution from "The Block," Baltimore's downtown city block of bars and strip joints.
Other questions include whether voters would be influenced if they knew Mrs. Clarke voted for a pay increase for the City Council, now wants to add police but previously voted to cut the force, and voted to support Mr. Schmoke's policies "98 percent of the time."
The poll also asks positive questions about Mr. Schmoke and his leadership, such as would voters be influenced if they knew the mayor was fighting for a fiscally stable Baltimore and was not afraid to fight for better schools and the rights of senior citizens.
"This survey doesn't include the issues," Mr. Dautrich said. "It is not really considering that -- it's definitely more a personal thing. That's one sad commentary about campaigns, the negative messages about the opponent do best."
Larry S. Gibson, Mr. Schmoke's campaign manager, declined yesterday to comment on the poll -- or even confirm that the Schmoke campaign had sponsored it.
"Mary Pat Clarke's campaign has been very negative since day one. We've been running on the mayor's record," Mr. Gibson said.
Cheryl Benton, Mrs. Clarke's campaign manager, said: "Clearly, Mary Pat's campaign has the momentum and what these questions reflect is the Schmoke campaign's floundering about. . . ."