ANNAPOLIS – Break out the cameras. Maryland’s gubernatorial race could be a photo finish.
The quest for the top seat in Maryland is closer than ever, according to a poll released Tuesday by Gonzales/Arscott Research and Communications Inc.
Republican candidate U.S. Rep. Bob Ehrlich maintained a slight edge over his Democratic rival Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, 46 percent to 45 percent, the poll found.
But that edge is so slim as to be statistically insignificant. The difference between the two is less than the poll’s 3.5 percent margin of error, meaning the race is a tossup.
“This is a horse race,” said Shareese DeLeaver, spokeswoman for the Ehrlich campaign. “Obviously, we like to go in on top.”
“We’ve said all along that this was going to be a close race,” said Len Foxwell, Townsend campaign press secretary. “It’s more important now than ever that people exercise their constitutional right and civil responsibility to vote in this election.”
The poll showed 7 percent undecided. Libertarian candidate Spear Lancaster received 1 percent.
The survey was conducted from Oct. 14 to Sunday among 840 registered Maryland voters.
The numbers show the race is up for grabs on Nov. 5, said Carol Arscott of Gonzales/Arscott.
The company’s past polls showed Townsend held the lead early, with Ehrlich making steady gains since August. Ehrlich surpassed her by a narrow margin earlier this month.
“It’s been proven in the past that you can win overwhelmingly by winning three of the most populous jurisdictions in Maryland,” Arscott said referring to Baltimore, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. “You can lose that way as well.”
“The idea that this would be a walkaway for the Democrats was a false premise anyway,” said Allan Lichtman, political analyst and chairman of the history department at the American University. “It’s going to come down to getting out the vote.”
Montgomery County is key to Townsend, Lichtman said. But her vote there could be suppressed by attacks by the sniper, who has killed 10 people and wounded three in the past three weeks.
The poll showed Ehrlich has 86 percent of the Republican vote in Maryland while Townsend only has 68 percent of the Democratic vote. Those figures, Foxwell said, are typical of state Democratic numbers. Some people in the state register as Democrats, but vote Republican so they can vote on important issues on the Democratic ticket during the primaries, he said. “She should be able to bring home a bigger Democratic vote than that,” Lichtman said. “If she does, she will win.” “That a Republican candidate is leading in a primarily Democratic state is phenomenal,” DeLeaver said.
The key to the election, however, is independent voters. The poll showed 39 percent of independents support Ehrlich, 34 percent favor Townsend and 24 percent are undecided.
Both DeLeaver and Foxwell said their candidates would win over the remaining undecided independents.
“This campaign is one where all voices are heard with different types of people seated around the table,” DeLeaver said.
Independent voters share the same concerns as Democratic and Republican voters on the issues of education and the economy, Foxwell said, and that they share the “mainstream” view that Townsend has.
“Clearly they (independent voters) can break either way,” Lichtman said. “Ehrlich has to have them break his way for him to win.”
Townsend has gained support slightly with male voters in Maryland while losing a small percentage of the female vote, while the opposite was true for Ehrlich, the poll found. In addition, the survey showed the looming $1.6 billion budget deficit is the most important issue to Maryland voters, followed by education. – 30 – CNS-10-22-02