Kerry dominates in Md. with widespread appeal

Election 2004 -- Super Tuesday

March 03, 2004|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

As John Kerry rolled to victories in Democratic primaries over the past two months, there were some soft spots in his support - among moderates, suburbanites and better-educated voters.

But in Maryland's primary yesterday, the Massachusetts senator dominated among nearly all demographic groups, according to exit poll numbers.

"Kerry's support varies from group to group, but it's pretty strong across the board," said Thomas F. Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "The only way I can explain it is that as soon as Kerry was anointed, people have fallen in line. People want the general election to start as soon as possible. They want little confusion, little dissension."

In several previous primaries won by Kerry, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards held his own among self-described moderates, leading some Democrats to wonder whether Edwards would be a stronger general election candidate against President Bush.

That was not the case in Maryland. The exit poll showed Kerry fared nearly as well among moderates as he did among self-described liberals, beating Edwards by a 59-26 margin.

And he ran even against Edwards among the 11 percent of voters who described themselves as conservative.

The poll, by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, was based on interviews with 1,704 voters at 30 polling places across the state.

Similarly, Edwards had performed better in some primaries among better-educated, higher-income voters, while Kerry ran strongest among less-educated and lower-earning voters - a counterintuitive trend, given Edwards' populist campaign contrasting his background as a millworker's son with Kerry's patrician roots.

But in Maryland yesterday, exit polls show that Kerry did equally well among voters earning less and more than $50,000, and equally well among those with and those without a college degree.

Kerry's dominance was greatest among African-Americans, who made up one-third of the state's Democratic vote. Among blacks, Kerry beat Edwards in exit polls by a whopping 49 percentage points.

The 16 percent Edwards polled among African-Americans was only 4 points more than the Rev. Al Sharpton's share of black voters.

Kerry's huge edge among African-Americans surprised some political observers, given Edwards' stylistic resemblance to fellow southerner Bill Clinton, who remains very popular among many black Democrats. Edwards also had the vocal support of Rep. Albert R. Wynn, an influential black congressman from Prince George's County.

That Kerry should nonetheless have trounced Edwards among African-American voters speaks volumes, said Matthew A. Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist.

"This reflects the strength of [black voters'] determination to beat Bush," Crenson said. "It answers one of the questions raised about Kerry's candidacy, whether he can turn out black voters. To the extent that Maryland is any indication, he can."

Kerry's lead was largest in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs, which together make up the base of the state Democratic Party.

Edwards narrowed the gap slightly in the Baltimore suburbs and in the rest of the state, but even in those areas, exit polls had Kerry running about 20 points ahead.

As elsewhere, Edwards did far better in Maryland - only 8 points behind Kerry - among voters who made up their minds in the past week. This trend led Edwards' boosters to argue that he does better the more voters see of him, and to argue that Edwards could have caught Kerry if the primary calendar had been less compressed and Edwards had had more time to connect with voters.

But Edwards did not win as many recent converts among former supporters of Howard Dean as he had hoped. Nearly 30 percent of Maryland voters said they had once considered voting for the former Vermont governor, but Kerry won those voters' support by a 2-1 margin over Edwards in exit polls.

Edwards has spent much of the past several weeks criticizing Kerry's support of free trade and seeking to capitalize on voters' concerns about jobs going overseas.

Yesterday's polls showed that voters are worried about globalization's downside, with more than half saying they believe that trade takes more jobs from Maryland than it creates. But polls showed that these concerns did not boost support for Edwards.

The renewed debate over gay marriage also did not appear to have much effect on voters. They split three ways on the issue, with roughly a third each supporting gay marriage, civil unions for gays or neither. However, their views on the subject did not seem to correlate with support for either Kerry or Edwards.

For Democrats, the most encouraging signal from Maryland voters yesterday may have been their agreement on their main goal, beating Bush.

Of those polled, 45 percent said they were "angry" with Bush, while another 40 percent said they were "dissatisfied" with him.

Voters gave a candidate's ability to defeat Bush higher priority than any other quality. And 78 percent of the voters polled said they would be satisfied with Kerry as the party's nominee.

"Bush has succeeded in unifying Democrats as no Democrat ever has," said Crenson.

"This is really extraordinary, how many rank-and-file Democrats have unified around one candidate."

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