Maryland's left-leaning politics persevere

Poll results: Marylanders want to share the wealth, expand civil rights and consider new leadership.

January 17, 2001

FOR AT LEAST a generation, Marylanders have eagerly elected Democrats, endorsed their social programs and worn their liberal credentials on their sleeves.

Frustrated Republicans have made halting advances, sneering at the electorate as The People's Republic of Maryland -- even as they hoped for a shift to the political right. They can dream on, according to a poll conducted for The Sun and other news organizations.

Though some rural and suburban areas of Maryland remain staunchly conservative, the state's electorate remains cemented into its spot on the liberal end of the political spectrum.

To put it in less partisan or political terms, Marylanders showed once again a decisive inclination to favor -- and pay for -- environmental protection, educational excellence, civil rights and Democratic leadership.

Consider these findings:

Fewer than one of every three Marylanders wants the state's $936 million budget surplus used to lower taxes.

More than half would dedicate the money to public purposes -- or save it for future needs.

By a margin of 60 percent to 32 percent, respondents said they would support legislation prohibiting housing and job discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Less overwhelmingly, the state supports banning the sale of all handguns in Maryland.

These results and others put Maryland in the category of America's most liberal states, according to Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research Inc. of Bethesda.

And so once again, the only game in town appears to be the Democratic primary. It's far too early to say no Republican will be positioned to offer a realistic challenge in the 2002 gubernatorial race. But Marylanders will likely find themselves looking to Democrats for their leaders.

And in that finding lies the poll's only eye-catching result.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, once a city councilman with dim prospects, suddenly looms as a star on the Democratic horizon -- possibly posing a threat to the early gubernatorial front-runner, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Mr. O'Malley, based on his first year in office, has a 51 percent favorable rating, compared with 68 percent for Ms. Townsend.

It's much too early to say the lieutenant governor's pre-eminent status has been challenged. Moreover, Mr. O'Malley may have no desire or inclination to run. But these results must surely have caught the attention of many, including the Democratic Party establishment, Ms. Townsend and Mr. O'Malley himself -- assuming he hadn't already done his own polling.

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