Ehrlich edges past Townsend in new poll

Results show 6-point shift in support in past month

`Either party nominee can win it'

The Maryland Poll

October 30, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. holds a 4-percentage point lead over Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend with one week to go in Maryland's race for governor, according to a new poll released today.

The Maryland Poll - conducted for The Sun and The Gazette newspapers - found the Baltimore County congressman ahead of the lieutenant governor 48 percent to 44 percent among likely voters in Tuesday's election, with 8 percent undecided.

The results show a 6-point shift in support since the last Maryland Poll a month ago, when Townsend led by 2 percentage points. Ehrlich's lead just exceeds the poll's margin of error, which is 3.4 percentage points.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, an article in yesterday's Sun incorrectly said that a 4 percentage point lead held by Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. over his opponent, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in a new Maryland Poll exceeded the survey's margin of error. It does not. The Sun regrets the error.

"Ehrlich has made some strides since early October, and this is how the campaign is breaking in the final week," said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research Inc. of Bethesda, which conducted the poll for the newspapers. "To be cautious, it is still a very close election by all objective counts. Either party nominee can win it.

"It comes down to how they play their cards, how good they'll be motivating their own respective hard-core supporters."

The poll of 869 likely voters was conducted by telephone Saturday through Monday. Quotas were used to make sure the sample reflected the racial, partisan, age and geographic breakdown of the likely November voters.

The results paint a picture of a geographically fractured state, deeply divided between the "Big Three" Democratic jurisdictions - Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's counties - and everywhere else.

Townsend leads among likely voters in those three areas 64 percent to 28 percent; in the other 21 jurisdictions, Ehrlich is ahead 62 percent to 29 percent. The "Big Three" represent about 44 percent of the state's population and about 41 percent of likely voters, indicating that Townsend's mission in the final week is to emphasize turnout in those areas - following the formula that Gov. Parris N. Glendening used in 1994.

"Townsend must boost voter turnout, especially in the Big Democratic Three among the infrequent voters," Haller said. "But if Ehrlich continues to hold this big lead everywhere else, that might not be enough for her."

Townsend also holds a crushing 82 percent to 6 percent lead among African-American voters. Said retired steel worker Willie Lane, 77, of Cherry Hill: "She's a Democrat and they do a lot for the poor, but Republicans don't do a damn thing for the poor. Education, gun control, his whole philosophy. It's not something I can support."

The poll results suggest Ehrlich's effort throughout the campaign to break racial barriers as a Republican - including choosing an African-American running mate - has had little effect.

"It's not so much a question of message or of picking Michael Steele, but it's a question that he is a Republican," said Ronald Walters, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland, College Park and director of the African American Leadership Institute. "To a greater extent, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's message is more trusted. He was a lieutenant of the Republican right. That whole era has scared the hell out of black people."

But Townsend's advertising campaign to paint Ehrlich as being too conservative for Maryland has not changed the minds of many likely voters. Only 32 percent agreed with the statement that "Bob Ehrlich is too conservative for Maryland," while 53 percent disagreed. A month ago, 30 percent agreed with that statement and 54 percent disagreed.

In contrast, Ehrlich is having more success. His efforts to tie Townsend to Glendening - who is unpopular everywhere in Maryland except Baltimore City, Montgomery and Prince George's - seem to have struck a chord among voters.

"I didn't like the fiscal policies that Townsend-Glendening had," said Karin Buchanan, 45, a nurse and registered Democrat who lives in Parkville. "I just don't care for her policies or the things I've heard. I want to try something different.

"I like Ehrlich, and I'm willing to invest four years to see what happens."

Likely voters were asked whether they agreed with the statement: "Kathleen Kennedy Townsend would just continue the policies of the Glendening administration. It's time for a change." About half agreed, while 38 percent disagreed.

"Neither of these candidates has done a very good job of why they should be the governor of Maryland," said Donald F. Norris, a policy sciences professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "But Bob has done a better job telling voters why she shouldn't be governor, and he has tied her effectively to a very unpopular governor."

The poll found only 37 percent of voters approve of the way Glendening is handling his job as governor, while 48 percent disapprove. His support is strongest in Baltimore City, Montgomery and Prince George's.

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