Johnson, Leopold are even in poll

60% in survey say they're `not very informed'

candidates ready to spend heavily

Maryland Votes 2006

October 29, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

The two candidates for Anne Arundel County executive are in a statistical dead heat going into the final days of the campaign, with six in 10 people saying they are "not very informed" about the race, according to a new poll.

Republican Del. John R. Leopold leads county Sheriff George F. Johnson IV, a Democrat, 38 percent to 37 percent, according to the poll by Anne Arundel Community College. A quarter of respondents said they remained undecided.

The results, released Thursday, suggest that building name recognition by the Nov. 7 election will be crucial, especially among the undecided voters and the county's 54,000 independents. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, 133,000 to 118,000.

"This race will be won by a small margin," said Dan Nataf, director of the college's Center for the Study of Local Issues. Now is the time to target persuadable voters, he said, adding, "This is the opportunity to effect the last-minute decision making."

Leopold and Johnson, both Pasadena residents, appear to be preparing for a fast finish, spending their extensive campaign funds on cable TV, radio and newspaper ads, mailings and phone calls.

"We could have a communications arms race," Nataf said. "An advertising blast by either or both candidates could sway 5 or 6 percent of the vote."

According to the campaign finance reports filed Friday with the state Board of Elections, Leopold had $329,995 on hand. During the reporting period, from Aug. 28 to Monday, Leopold raised $51,490 and spent $102,251. Leopold, who had refrained from running any TV and radio ads for the primary, began airing cable TV ads late last week in the county. The five-term delegate is also running radio ads in the Baltimore market.

Leopold said that in the previous week, he had spent an additional $150,000 - much of it from personal loans - for advertising praising his record, including his recent endorsements from The Sun, The Washington Post and The Capital, and attacking Johnson's management of the sheriff's office.

"That's what the money was there for," Leopold said of his personal funds. "It was held in reserve to use for this most critical time. I will utilize all the tools available to reinforce the last three years of personal contact."

Johnson, a three-term sheriff, has been spending money all along. In his last campaign finance report, he had $334,000 on hand. His camp said Friday that he had raised about $230,000 in the previous two months and had about $200,000 left to spend.

Johnson's campaign began running ads this week in the Baltimore TV market and on the county cable networks, and he has begun running local radio ads

He is sending out mailings emphasizing his strong fiscal management of the sheriff's office, accusing Leopold of lacking management experience and trying to tie the lawmaker to recent electricity rate increases.

"One thing we see now is that folks are starting to pay attention," said Mike Rendina, Johnson's campaign manager. "Now is the time you want to reach out to the communities and to the voters as much as possible. This is where we have the advantage. We have built a great grassroots organization. We are not an army of one. We are an army of many."

County Executive Janet S. Owens, who won re-election in 2002 over Republican challenger Phillip D. Bissett by a 4 percentage points, advised Johnson and Leopold: "This is the key time to not let up on anything."

"You need to arrange as much voter contact, try to determine if you need a last-minute mailing," said Owens, a Democrat who is prohibited by law from seeking a third term. "Phone banking, trying to get ... media coverage ... keeping your volunteers motivated and energized. ... You have to stay focused."

A Capital poll of 462 residents two weeks ago found Johnson leading Leopold 43 percent to 41 percent, with a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points. In that poll, 13 percent were undecided.

The college polled 382 county residents from Oct. 16 to 19. The margin of error was about 5 percentage points.

In that survey, nearly nine in 10 respondents said they would vote on Nov. 7, attracted by competitive races for county executive and for governor and the U.S. Senate.

In the governor's race, the poll found incumbent Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. with a 9 percentage point lead over Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, in Anne Arundel County. Four years ago, Ehrlich carried 65 percent of the Anne Arundel vote against Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

"If the Republican lead in places like Anne Arundel is in the mid-teens, that will pose a significant challenge for Ehrlich" to find big gains elsewhere in the state, Nataf said. Ehrlich won by about 66,000 votes four years ago. Nataf said that if the poll is any indication, "he may have lost a third of that here."

"Ehrlich is in deep trouble," Nataf said.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

POLL FINDINGS

Anne Arundel Community College's Center for the Study of Local Issues polled 382 county residents between Oct. 16 and 19. The margin of error is about 5 percentage points. Among the findings:

In the governor's race, 47 percent support Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.; 38 percent back his Democratic challenger, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

39 percent approve of President Bush's performance, up from 37 percent in the spring. About 31 percent said that Bush "has a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq."

21 percent said concerns about growth are the county's top issue, followed by education (16 percent), traffic (12 percent) and crime (10 percent).

46 percent described race relations in the county as good; 44 percent said they were fair; 7 percent said poor.

Seven in 10 said they thought the county would not face a terrorist attack this year, the largest proportion since Sept. 11, 2001.

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