Gansler lead over Rolle looks strong

Maryland Votes 2006 -- 42 Days Until Nov. 7

September 26, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Reporter

Democrat Douglas F. Gansler appears to be benefiting from his party's 2-to-1 edge in registered voters and a barrage of television ads, holding a commanding lead over Republican Scott L. Rolle in the race for the open attorney general seat, according to a new poll for The Sun.

While both candidates are waging similar law-and-order campaigns, Gansler, the Montgomery County state's attorney, has far more money than Rolle, the chief prosecutor in Frederick County, and a base in the state's most populous area.

With those advantages, he holds a lead of 54 percent to 26 percent, the statewide poll of 815 likely voters showed. As of Sept. 1, Gansler had $1 million in his campaign treasury versus just $69,000 for Rolle.

"It certainly is an upward challenge" for Rolle, said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Inc., which conducted the poll between Sept. 15 and 18. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

The incumbent, J. Joseph Curran Jr., said he was relinquishing the seat he had held for five terms rather than run on the same Democratic ticket as his son-in-law, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, the party's gubernatorial nominee.

The attorney general's office provides legal counsel to the governor, the General Assembly and all state agencies, appearing on their behalf in court and ruling on the legality of policy. The office also represents the state in criminal appeals, serves as a consumer protection advocate and investigates Medicare fraud.

Gansler, 43, and Rolle, 44, are each running a statewide race for the first time. But Gansler had been preparing for the race for five years and had already raised $1.5 million when he declared his candidacy in May. Rolle, who lost a primary bid for Congress two years ago, was recruited to run by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who was at his side when he announced his candidacy the same month.

Ehrlich, who alleged that Curran failed to represent his interests, said he wanted a fellow Republican as attorney general. No Republican has won the post since 1919.

Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, cited several recent decisions by Curran and his staff, including approving an early-voting law, that were later overturned by courts as evidence that the office had grown too political.

Gansler has called himself the heir to Curran's legacy.

"To be frank about it, he [Rolle] is going to need Bob Ehrlich's coattails," Haller said, adding that the Frederick prosecutor also needed substantially more resources to "play in the same arena" as Gansler.

The poll showed Rolle ahead only in Western Maryland, while Gansler rolled up formidable margins in the Baltimore and Washington regions, the most populous areas of the state.

"It may be a somewhat unfair appraisal of both candidates, but it underscores the lack of awareness of the Rolle candidacy, the Rolle persona," Haller said.

In the Baltimore area, which Gansler blanketed with television advertisements starting in early August, his lead was 49 percent to Rolle's 27 percent, according to the poll. In the Washington area, Gansler held a lead of 64 percent to Rolle's 20 percent. On the Eastern Shore and in Southern Maryland, Gansler also led, 40 percent to 27 percent.

In his Western Maryland base, Rolle was ahead 44 percent to 34 percent.

Gansler showed few ill effects from the primary campaign he waged against Stuart O. Simms, the former state's attorney in Baltimore who was seeking to become the state's first African-American attorney general, the poll indicated.

It showed Gansler winning 79 percent of the African-American vote to Rolle's 7 percent.

Against Simms, Gansler won majority-black Prince George's County in the primary but lost by a nearly 3-to-1 margin on Simms' home turf.

The primary race, during which Gansler spent $800,000, much of it on television ads, also significantly raised his visibility and allowed him to shape his image with little contradiction.

"He seems like a very honest, caring person," said Cindy Myers, 65, a Republican from Union Bridge in Carroll County, who favors Gansler. While she heard a lot about him during the primary, she did not hear a "whole lot" about Rolle, who is a prosecutor in a neighboring county.

Rolle, with no primary opponent, spent less than 5 percent of Gansler's outlay.

If Rolle is holding back on his spending during the primary, now would not be too soon unleash it, Haller said.

"You could only keep your powder dry for so long," he said.

Both candidates portray themselves as pursuing criminals and protecting the vulnerable from crime - so much so that Simms accused them in the primary of wanting to be "supercops."

The emphasis appeals to some.

"Our crime rate is very high," said Allan Hess, 58, a Democrat from Cockeysville who thinks Rolle is best suited to tame it. Hess, an oncology professor at the Johns Hopkins University, said he fears that Maryland's developing high-tech and biotech industries might be ripe for white-collar crime. "We need somebody who is going to put his foot down," he said.

Gail Ewing, a Democrat and former Montgomery County Council member who now teaches political science, said it's hard for any candidate to maintain a big lead throughout a campaign.

To do so, she said, Gansler needs to continue pounding the pavement and not appear too slick. Rolle, for his part, should avoid negative campaigning that voters say they dislike. "But you still have to differentiate yourself," she said, "to say why you would do it better."

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