SOMEHOW, political polls seem trivial in the wake of last week's tragedies. But politics, like the rest of life, goes on.
In terms of attracting attention, the Gonzales-Arscott poll released last week could not have come out at a worse time. It arrived by e-mail a week ago last night, and within 12 hours its impact was blunted by the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon.
The poll showed Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend leading Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. by a 23-point margin in a still-theoretical 2002 gubernatorial contest.
The Ehrlich camp had been making hopeful noises in recent weeks, cheered by focus groups and another recent poll. But there's a heaping helping of reality check in the Gonzales-Arscott numbers.
The big one: Townsend's 81 percent to 7 percent lead among African-American voters, with 12 percent undecided.
How big a disadvantage is that for Ehrlich?
Let's start by giving all of the undecided African-American vote to Ehrlich - a wildly optimistic scenario for the Republican. (Gov. Parris N. Glendening got the votes of 90 percent of African-American voters in 1998.)
African-Americans made up 21 percent of the turnout in 1998, without a member of the Kennedy family at the top of the ticket. Gonzales-Arscott used a sampling in which 24 percent of the voters were black. Sounds realistic.
The net result: Townsend has a tremendous advantage even before the first nonblack vote is counted.
Her lead among blacks is so great that Ehrlich could receive almost 60 percent of the remaining votes and still fall short of beating her.
And to launch that challenge, he'd have to get substantial support from groups for which Townsend has strong appeal, including Hispanics, Montgomery County liberals, Irish-Americans, union members, social workers, schoolteachers, gays and white Baltimoreans.
According to the Gonzales-Arscott poll, Townsend leads among white voters 45 percent to 38 percent.
Townsend's name recognition stands at 95 percent - making her, in the words of Gonzales-Arscott "the best-known lieutenant governor in the history of the world."
So if Ehrlich hasn't exactly rushed into the race, even the most gung-ho Republicans should understand why. The best possible scenario for Ehrlich - a great campaign and a series of Townsend gaffes - might not be enough to put him over the top.
Gonzales-Arscott puts the margin of error for the poll at plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points.
Poll shows a decline in support for Glendening
Maryland voters approve of the job Gov. Parris N. Glendening is doing by a 53 percent to 33 percent margin, according to the same poll.
That's a slip of 5 percentage points from the 58 percent performance approval the governor enjoyed in a Gonzales-Arscott poll in February. A Sun poll in January showed Glendening with a 56 percent approval rating.
The latest survey showed that Marylanders continue to respect Glendening's work more than they like him personally. Only 45 percent said they held a favorable view of the governor, compared with 31 percent who hold an unfavorable opinion.
The job performance numbers show Glendening's work is viewed especially highly by African-Americans, 79 percent of whom give him the thumbs-up.
On another question, the poll found that 72 percent of Maryland voters disapprove of legislation passed by the General Assembly this year to ban below-cost sales of gasoline.
On the face if it, the issue might look like a potent one for GOP candidates. After all, Glendening signed it into law.
But a lot of the dealers who clamored for the law are the type of small independent businessmen who make up the Republican base. They see it as a survival issue. Candidates who attack the legislation can expect to see their opponents' signs at their local service stations.
Right-leaning Brochin takes a look to the left
Jim Brochin, a self-described conservative Democrat who's planning to challenge Baltimore County Republican Sen. Andrew P. Harris, isn't shy about accepting help from the more liberal wing of his party.
Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and Elijah E. Cummings, who are hardly conservative heroes, will be co-hosts for a Brochin fund-raiser this week, with Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller serving as master of ceremonies.
Brochin is adding campaign firepower by bringing on Colleen Martin-Lauer as fund-raiser and David Heller as media consultant. Martin-Lauer represents a long list of Democrats, most of them well to the left of Brochin, and Heller is also working for liberal Democratic state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. in his U.S. House bid.