Registering with the voters

O'Malley gets notice

Townsend gets nod in gubernatorial poll

The Maryland Poll

January 12, 2001|By Thomas W. Waldron and Sarah Koenig | Thomas W. Waldron and Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend holds a solid early lead over her most likely challengers in next year's governor's race, but Maryland appears to have found a new political heartthrob in Baltimore's first-term mayor, Martin O'Malley, a new statewide poll shows.

O'Malley's stunningly broad popularity, as reflected in The Maryland Poll, could become Townsend's biggest problem in the 2002 gubernatorial race, analysts said.

"He's unquestionably become a political force to be reckoned with in state politics, and maybe even a wild card in this upcoming governor's race," said Keith Haller, the Bethesda-based pollster who conducted the survey.

The poll of registered voters across the state also found that Gov. Parris N. Glendening, after more than six years in office, enjoys strong approval ratings - as does President Clinton eight days from leaving office.

But fewer than half the voters in this heavily Democratic state are confident that President-elect George W. Bush will do a good job, according to the survey conducted for The Sun and two Washington-area media outlets, the Gazette newspapers and WTOP radio.

Analysts cautioned that it is far too early to make any conclusions about Townsend's prospects, but the survey buttresses the conventional political wisdom: Townsend is the early front-runner in the race to succeed Glendening - thanks largely to her high name recognition and voters' generally favorable impressions of her.

Townsend leads Democrats

In what could prove to be an all-important Democratic primary election a year from September, Townsend holds commanding leads over her three most likely rivals - Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry.

None has formally entered the race, but Townsend, Ruppersberger and Duncan have all raised money in anticipation of possible campaigns.

In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, the survey also shows Townsend winning a solid majority over the Republican analysts say would give her the toughest general-election challenge, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Baltimore County.

Townsend declined to comment on the poll yesterday.

Although the lieutenant governor looks formidable right now, she might soon have a worthy rival in the state's Democratic Party.

O'Malley's `meteoric rise'

O'Malley, Baltimore's guitar-playing mayor, is viewed favorably by 51 percent of those surveyed statewide, even though he has been in office barely a year. A negligible 3 percent have a negative view of him.

"It's sort of a meteoric rise," pollster Haller said of the mayor's popularity. "It's obviously more than a honeymoon."

The 54 percent name recognition for O'Malley easily eclipsed those of such officials as Duncan and Ruppersberger, who have held prominent county executive seats for six years.

Among those polled, Kristen S. McDonald, 31, a high school teacher from Randallstown, said she would be hard-pressed to choose between Townsend and O'Malley if the two appeared on a gubernatorial primary ballot.

While Townsend appeared politically savvy, McDonald said, "the thing that makes O'Malley attractive is that he seems like a real person. ... You get the feeling he will take interests to heart as a normal person would."

In his home city, O'Malley was viewed favorably by 88 percent of those surveyed, and the mayor enjoyed similarly strong numbers in Baltimore County. Haller termed that level of goodwill "godlike" and said that it eclipsed even that of former Mayor William Donald Schaefer at the height of his tenure.

Even far from home, in Montgomery County, the state's largest jurisdiction, about a quarter of the voters recognized the mayor's name - a solid showing given his short time in office, analysts said.

O'Malley was not available to comment on the poll yesterday.

However, not everyone polled in the city is enamored of the mayor. Clifford Smith, 49, who works for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said O'Malley made a grave mistake by not instantly firing city housing commissioner Paul T. Graziano, who made homophobic comments during a recent drunken tirade in a Fells Point bar.

"O'Malley is impressing the local people, but Townsend has the experience and the connections to impress the bigger people," he said, adding that she seemed honest. "Honesty is obviously something that's lacking in politics today."

1,203 voters surveyed

For the poll, Potomac Survey Research, Inc. interviewed 1,203 voters by phone between Dec. 27 and Jan. 4. The margin of error is 2.8 percentage points. For smaller samples within the poll, such as the answers by voters within particular counties, the margins of error are much higher.

Of the 698 registered Democrats questioned about their choice for governor, 59 percent picked Townsend, while Ruppersberger, Duncan and Curry registered in the single digits. For this question, asked only of Democratic voters, the margin of error is 3.7 percent.

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