Parties put best spin on poll numbers

The Political Game

Campaign: Democrats and Republicans interpret a recent survey showing Democrat John Kerry with a 10-point lead over President Bush in Maryland.

October 12, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

THE SIGNIFICANCE of election-year poll numbers often depends on who's reading them. Maryland Republicans and Democrats both claim that a statewide survey released last week favors their candidate.

The telephone survey taken this month by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies found that Democratic nominee John Kerry holds a 10 percentage point lead in Maryland over President Bush, 52 percent to 42 percent, with a 3 1/2 percent margin of error.

Republicans say the numbers show progress. They note that Kerry led Bush by 14 percentage points in Gonzales' June poll, and by 13 points in August. After the August numbers came out, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said Bush should not campaign in Maryland, and should concentrate on those swing states where he is more competitive.

"President Bush has had a steady improvement on John Kerry's lead in Maryland for months now," state GOP Chairman John M. Kane said in a statement. "Four years ago we'd never even think the possibility of any Republican being within single digits of a Democrat would be something to talk about in Maryland."

But the "steady improvement" that Kane and other Republicans talk about is a bit of a stretch. Tracked over time, Bush's and Kerry's support is virtually unchanged in Maryland since February. Primaries, nominating conventions and debates may have produced temporary ups and downs, but they've had little net effect on the race in Maryland.

Republicans also don't answer how the Gonzales poll comports with two other surveys the party chastised the news media for not reporting more thoroughly. Two automated surveys - not live questioners taking results, but a recorded voice asking people to push buttons on their phones - showed Bush and Kerry tied in Maryland. Automated surveys are rife with validity problems.

(A push-button Survey USA poll conducted Sept. 17-19 had Bush and Kerry deadlocked in Maryland at 48 percent; on Oct. 7, the same polling company had Kerry ahead, 56 percent to 41 percent.)

The GOP is right to note that Bush is perceived more favorably in Maryland now than four years ago, when Al Gore carried the state by 17 percentage points. A Democratic candidate should have a solid double-digit lead in Maryland, many analysts say; that Kerry barely clings to one illustrates questions about his leadership.

The Gonzales survey reinforces that notion: 94 percent of Bush supporters say they like him "very much" or "somewhat," compared with 67 percent of Kerry supporters. Nearly one in three backers of the Democrat say they will vote for him because they "dislike the other candidate."

In the race for U.S. Senate, Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski leads Republican E.J. Pipkin, 58 percent to 34 percent, according to the Gonzales poll. Pipkin continues to spend a chunk of the personal fortune he earned as a junk-bond trader to change voters' minds. According to Federal Election Commission documents, he lent himself another $200,000 last week, pushing his personal spending since winning the primary above $1 million.

Ehrlich seeks retraction - and a higher handicap

Ehrlich, as we all know by now, is an avid golfer. But he doesn't want anyone to think he's too avid.

Last week, the governor attended a ceremony at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, where the United States Golf Association announced that the course would host one of the sport's premier events, the U.S. Open, in 2011.

Invited to the microphone, Ehrlich was introduced as the governor with a sterling 5 handicap. Not so, the governor told us the next day. While a certain newspaper that circulates in the metropolitan area to the south published the figure, the governor said he's not quite that good, and he wants the record set straight - for financial reasons.

"My friends are going to be asking for money back," Ehrlich said. "I am a 10 handicapper. I do demand a retraction."

Kennedys want hotel site to be used for education

Former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend joined four of her siblings in asking school officials in Los Angeles to abandon plans to preserve part of the Ambassador Hotel, where their father, Robert F. Kennedy, was fatally shot in 1968. Instead, the Kennedy children said, the entire 23-acre site should be used for public school facilities, the Associated Press reported.

"Our father's entire public career was devoted to creating a better future for young people," said a letter signed by Townsend, as well as her brothers Maxwell, Robert, Christopher and sister Rory.

Preservationists want to save parts of the hotel, considered a Jazz Age landmark, and Los Angeles school district officials have said they would set aside as much as $15 million to preserve a coffee shop, nightclub, and portions of the ballroom where Robert Kennedy delivered his final speech after winning the California presidential primary.

But others, including the Kennedy siblings, want the entire site used for education.

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