Minorities, women play a central role

The voters

Maryland Votes 2006 -- A Special Section

November 08, 2006|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,SUN REPORTER

Women, minorities and self-styled political moderates voted strongly Democratic yesterday as the party tried to oust Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and retain control over an open U.S. Senate seat.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin were favored among women by margins of nearly 20 percentage points in the races for governor and Senate, respectively, and they received between 74 percent and 85 percent of black votes. These figures came from interviews with 1,563 Marylanders leaving 35 polling places around the state.

Voters who described themselves as moderates supported the two Democrats by an average of 10 percentage points over Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the GOP candidate for Senate. Moderates constituted the largest voting bloc, and some analysts say the results show O'Malley and Cardin succeeded in casting their opponents as conservatives, despite vigorous efforts by Steele in particular to emphasize his independence from the Bush administration.

Analysts said the results also reflected a national sentiment that had soured on Republicans, President Bush and the Iraq war.

"The Democratic Party typically has an advantage with female voters, but a 20-point margin is huge," said Donald F. Norris, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "What it says as much, as anything else, is that voters in this state were predominantly anti-Republican and anti-war."

These exit polls were done as part of the National Election Pool Survey conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International in cooperation with the Associated Press and television networks. The margin of error was 2 percent for the entire Maryland sample of voters; data for smaller subgroups of voters have larger margins of error.

The gender divide in both races surprised some analysts. Although white women favored Ehrlich by 3 percentage points, eight of 10 minority women backed O'Malley, as did 68 percent of single women. Overall, O'Malley won the female vote, 59 percent to 41 percent; Cardin's margin was slightly larger, 59 percent to 40 percent.

"That's a much larger gap than probably anyone expected," said James Gimpel, professor of government at the University of Maryland, College Park. "That portends bad things for the Ehrlich and Steele campaigns, that they obviously didn't make the sale they needed to to women. If they lose, that looks like a pretty big part of the responsibility."

As expected, African-Americans made a strong showing for O'Malley, with 85 percent supporting him. Steele fought hard for black votes, but Cardin received 74 percent. For the Democrats, the margins were high enough to offset the majority white vote that went to Ehrlich and Steele, the first African-American elected in a statewide race when he was voted in as Ehrlich's lieutenant governor in 2002.

Many observers believed black voter turnout would be the deciding factor in the race. A Sun poll that estimated 19 percent turnout among African-Americans just days before the election indicated that the governor's race was neck and neck. In the exit poll, 23 percent of those interviewed were black.

Norris said strong anti-Bush and anti-war fervor among blacks drove the results. Gimpel observed that although Steele did not gain the 35 percent or 40 percent of the African-American vote that he believed he needed to win, he did win over some blacks who voted for O'Malley.

"We viewed this race as a test of the loyalty of black voters to party identity versus racial identity," Gimpel said. "What you see from these results is that there were some out there that did set aside their party identity in favor of black candidates. That's a pretty significant difference. ... It's an important step forward that Republicans fielded this candidate and won a quarter of the vote."

Both parties pursued moderate voters, many of whom are registered Democrats but supported Ehrlich four years ago. Democrats make up a majority of registered voters in Maryland.

"Both Steele and Ehrlich tried to position themselves as moderates, but the problem was that they governed as conservatives," Norris said. "And the advertising that both O'Malley and Cardin used painted [their opponents] as conservatives and tied them to George Bush, and that could not have helped in this state at all."

Gimpel said he wasn't surprised moderates voted for Democrats this year.

"Moderates are often people who tend to move with the national tide," he said. "We know that this was a pretty blue year, so it isn't at all surprising that the moderates drifted in a Democratic direction."

Analysts said the moderate vote, as well as that of women and minorities, reflected national discontent with President Bush and widespread disapproval of the Iraq war.

Nearly two-thirds of Maryland voters interviewed yesterday said they disapprove of the Iraq war and believe the U.S. should withdraw some or all of the troops fighting there. Of those who disapproved of the war, almost eight of 10 voted for Cardin.

About three of five of those interviewed also said they strongly favored the candidate they picked, and nearly half said Bush was not a factor in their choice. Fourteen percent said they voted to express support for Bush, and of those, 97 percent picked Steele. Two of five said they voted to oppose Bush, and of those 94 percent picked Cardin.bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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