Maryland voters strongly favor the nationwide presidential frontrunners, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, but about a third of likely primary voters of both parties remain undecided, according to a recent statewide phone survey.
Clinton, meanwhile, is tied with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama among the state's black voters, with each winning support from about a third of those polled. Blacks make up about 28 percent of state residents, forming a potentially powerful voting bloc for Democratic candidates.
With four months until the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary launch the voting season, support for the candidates is fluid, according to pollster Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks, the Annapolis firm that conducted the phone survey from Aug. 24-26.
"The preceding states will dramatically impact the way Maryland ultimately votes," Raabe said.
Residents of Maryland, Washington and Virginia will cast ballots in a Feb. 12 primary, a week after the Super Tuesday contests that are expected to produce the eventual nominees. So Maryland's vote is not likely to change the outcome of the contest.
The OpinionWorks poll shows Clinton, supported by Gov. Martin O'Malley, ahead of the Democratic pack, with 32 percent of the vote, compared with Obama's 18 percent, and 10 percent for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
The other Democratic candidates - Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich - register in the low single digits. Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd was not included in the poll. About 32 percent of those surveyed said they were unsure whom they would support.
Giuliani, who is backed by former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., holds a firm lead among Maryland Republicans, with 32 percent supporting his candidacy. Arizona Sen. John McCain is supported by 13 percent of likely primary voters, former Tennessee senator and actor Fred Thompson is the pick of 12 percent, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is at 8 percent.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas are in the low single digits. Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo was included in the poll but received less than 1 percent. About 29 percent of Republican primary voters are undecided.
The margin of error was 5.4 percentage points for the Democratic contest and 7.4 percentage points for Republicans. The Sun used OpinionWorks to conduct two city Democratic primary polls this summer, but this statewide survey of 335 Democrats and 177 Republicans was part of a separate poll initiated by a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. It was conducted before Thompson entered the race.
The most critical aspect of the survey - and the one that could be relevant to the outcome of the Democratic primary if it holds up in other states - is the strength of Clinton's support in the black community, said Donald F. Norris, professor and chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Clinton and Obama each polled at 31 percent among black voters. Norris said Clinton probably benefits from the support that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, maintains among African-Americans.
Hillary Clinton trumps Obama among white voters, 31 percent to 13 percent. She is ahead in Baltimore City as well, 40 percent to 23 percent, and in Baltimore County, 34 percent to 10 percent. Most notably, perhaps, Clinton leads Obama in vote-rich, heavily African-American Prince George's County, 33 percent to 28 percent.
Obama's strongest performance is with the 35-and- younger age group. He takes 34 percent of the vote to Clinton's 25 percent. Clinton, however, wins the other age brackets.
But, Norris cautioned: "Young voters don't turn out to vote in the numbers that older voters do."
On the Republican side, Giuliani leads McCain in each age bracket, among white voters, and with men and women.