Glendening gains, poll shows Sauerbrey remains in dead heat among most likely voters

October 28, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron and C. Fraser Smith | Thomas W. Waldron and C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

A surge of support from women, African-Americans and other traditional Democratic voters has given Gov. Parris N. Glendening a modest lead over Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey with a week remaining before Tuesday's election, a new poll has found.

Locked in a statistical tie three weeks ago, Glendening now leads Sauerbrey among likely voters 52 percent to 44 percent, with 4 percent undecided, according to a poll done for The Sun and other news organizations.

Among voters considered the most certain to cast ballots, Glendening holds a smaller lead of 50 percent to 46 percent for Sauerbrey.

"The momentum has swung to the Glendening campaign," said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research Inc., the Bethesda-based firm that did the poll. "The message is that Democrats have come home."

Experts cautioned, however, that a poll cannot accurately project turnout -- a critical factor in a close race -- and that Glendening's lead could evaporate in the final week of a campaign.

Haller said the poll showed that Sauerbrey's best chance may ride on a light voter turnout, as her supporters appear to be more commited to her candidacy and are thus more likely to cast ballots.

Spokesmen for the two campaigns responded to the poll results with both confidence and caution.

"We're happy that signs indicate that this race is moving in our direction," said Peter S. Hamm, a Glendening spokesman.

"But we still think this is going to be a close race and think that it's crucial that everybody get out to vote next Tuesday."

Carol L. Hirschburg, Sauerbrey's spokeswoman, said: "We are polling on a nightly basis, and according to our numbers, the race is a dead heat."

The Sun's poll found that Glendening's current lead over Sauerbrey has been built on increasing support among his core group of constituents, particularly African-Americans and women.

Among blacks, Glendening now leads Sauerbrey by 86 percent to 11 percent, compared with a 74-10 advantage three weeks ago.

Despite Sauerbrey's stepped-up efforts to sell herself as possibly becoming the state's first female governor, women now favor Glendening by a margin of 54 percent to 40 percent. Three weeks ago, the governor was leading among women by only 5 percentage points.

At the same time, a strong majority of voters in all regions of the state said they disapprove of the way the Republican-led Congress is handling the impeachment inquiry of President Clinton -- a sentiment that is apparently translating into support for Glendening, Haller said.

He added that Glendening scored a potentially important coup this week when Clinton, whose popularity continues to climb in Maryland, agreed to appear Sunday at a Baltimore church. The event will likely turn into a Democratic love fest and could serve to boost Election Day turnout among the party's faithful.

The Maryland governor's advertising campaign, which has pointed out Sauerbrey's conservative record on issues such as abortion, gun control and the environment, appears to be paying off: More than a third of those surveyed agreed with the statement that she is "too extreme" to be governor.

Respondents who said they're supporting Glendening because they would "never vote for Ellen Sauerbrey" climbed from 20 percent of his supporters three weeks ago to 27 percent in the current poll.

Haller said these poll results "drive home the power of negative ads."

"She's incurred a lot of damage," he said.

Among Glendening's female supporters is Gail M. Hudson, a 38-year-old pharmacist from East Baltimore. She said she has concerns about Glendening's integrity but will vote for him anyway, citing Sauerbrey's stances against abortion and gun control.

"I'm not real happy about it. But you have to pick somebody," Hudson said. "I'd much rather pick him than her."

Among voters age 65 or older, Sauerbrey and Glendening are essentially tied, with the governor holding a statistically insignificant 48 percent to 46 percent advantage.

Those figures suggest that Sauerbrey's call for an income tax cut for some retirees has not translated into a large wave of support, Haller said. In fact, just as many respondents said the tax proposal made them less likely to vote for Sauerbrey as said it made them more likely to support her.

Sauerbrey needs more backers like Theodore A. Malinowski, 69, of Bowie, a retired sales executive for Toyota.

"First of all, I'm for her because I'm a Republican," he said. "I also like the fact that she's trying to cut taxes for seniors."

But Nicholas Pollok, a retired federal employee from Frederick, called the Sauerbrey tax cut proposal "nonsense."

"If you're going to do all these things you need to do in this state, what is the sense in cutting the tax rate at this time?" Pollok said.

In all, only 4 percent of voters are completely undecided.

Among them is Carolyn J. Davis, a 51-year-old housewife from West Baltimore. Davis is a loyal Democrat who supports gun control and abortion rights.

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