July 27, 2010

Race for governor very close, and either O’Malley or Ehrlich ‘could win,’ poll finds

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By Len Lazarick

Len@MarylandReporter.com

A new poll confirms that the race for governor between Democratic incumbent Martin O’Malley and Bob Ehrlich, the Republican incumbent he ousted four years ago, is “really close,” as three previous pollsters have found.

The new telephone survey of 807 likely voters conducted by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies in mid-July found O’Malley would have 45% of the votes and Ehrlich 42% — if the election had been held this month.

“O’Malley has a slight lead in our poll, but it’s clear that either candidate could win,” said the analysis written by Patrick Gonzales and his partner Laslo Boyd. Both have polled and worked for mostly Democratic candidates, in addition to the media polls they’ve done for years. “The electorate divides sharply – with Republicans more unified in their support of Ehrlich than Democrats are of O’Malley.”

Ehrlich’s 19% support among Democrats is much weaker than he had in his victory in 2002.

The pollsters conclude: “O’Malley won’t win if a majority of voters feels the economy is the number one issue on Election Day” — as the poll found more than half of the likely voters (52%) believe — “and Ehrlich won’t win if only 19% of Democrats vote for him on Election Day.”

UPDATE: On WBAL radio Tuesday, Gonzales predicted that the winner of this year’s race may actually get less than 50% of the vote.

The poll’s margin of error is 3.5%. The full poll results are linked at the bottom of this page.

Education and taxes have lost their normally high stance as “the most important issue facing the state,” as the pollsters phrased it in questions. The percentage of respondents identifying the economy as the top issue is “dramatically higher than normal,” compared to polling on the same question in past years.

“This is not good for incumbents,” the pollsters say.

Even Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, consistently the most popular politician in Maryland in past polling, saw a slight uptick in her disapproval rating to 29%, a 6% rise since January, and the highest in the last six years of Gonzales polling. Mikulski is seeking her sixth six-year term in the Senate. She got 61% of the vote in 2004.

The racial, gender and partisan divides are clear. A majority of whites, males and Republicans prefer Ehrlich; a majority of blacks, women and Democrats prefer O’Malley.

This is the fourth published poll since April in which O’Malley has gotten less than 50% of the vote, and the numbers among likely voters have been within the margin of error. The polls by Gonzales and the Washington Post used traditional interview techniques by human interviewers over the telephone; Rasmussen Reports and Magellan Strategies polls use robotic phone calls and only Magellan, which has GOP connections, showed Ehrlich ahead. That survey included 19% African Americans, an important Democratic constituency; Gonzales respondents were 23% black.

O’Malley’s job approval rating is 48% and his disapproval is 39%, both better numbers than he had in 2008 after signing major tax hikes. Ehrlich’s approval rating was above 50% when O’Malley defeated him four years ago.

The two campaigns responded to the polls by tying them to familiar talking points.

O’Malley deputy campaign manager Rick Abbruzzese said: “This poll confirms that Bob Ehrlich is stuck in the low-40s because people remember his record as the biggest spender in Maryland history, and that Marylanders approve of the job Governor O’Malley is doing to move Maryland forward despite the national recession.”

Ehrlich Communications Director Henry Fawell said:

“Like every survey published in the past 50 days, the poll shows Marylanders are embracing Bob Ehrlich’s positive message of more jobs, lower taxes and less spending. It also shows that Governor O’Malley’s negative campaigning has proven to be a major tactical mistake. We expect this race to remain very close. “