WASHINGTON – The presidential race has narrowed slightly in Maryland but Democratic Sen. John Kerry still holds a comfortable 10-point lead over President Bush, according to a statewide poll released Thursday.
The poll by Gonzales Research and Marketing showed Kerry leading Bush by a 52-42 percent margin, with 1 percent backing independent Ralph Nader and 5 percent undecided. Kerry’s lead was down slightly from an August poll when he led Bush by 13 points.
The poll also showed Republican state Sen. E.J. Pipkin advancing slightly in his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski — but only slightly. Mikulski, a Democrat, held a commanding 58-34 percent lead and had a 59 percent job approval rating.
Even though the GOP candidates are still trailing, Maryland Republican Party spokeswoman Deborah Martinez took the poll as good news.
“We are competitive in Maryland . . . at this time four years ago that wouldn’t even be a discussion,” she said.
The independent Gonzales poll, based on interviews with 809 registered voters from Oct. 1 to 5, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
It found that with a month to go before Election Day, Kerry leads Bush by wide margins in Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, while the president holds similarly large margins in Western Maryland and along the Eastern Shore.
It also found that while much of president’s support came from voters who like him, much of Kerry’s support comes from people who dislike the president.
Kerry’s lead can also be attributed to the 2-to-1 advantage that Democrats hold over Republicans in party registration in Maryland, according to Michael Korzi, a Towson University political science professor. Korzi noted that Kerry’s lead was “not that substantial” given the edge that Democrats hold in registration.
“You would expect him to be up by a much larger margin,” Korzi said. “I think that a 10-point lead should be a cause of concern for Democrats.”
But Maryland Democratic Party Executive Director Josh White was not concerned, saying “the people of Maryland are clearly rejecting President Bush.”
Maryland has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, when former President George H.W. Bush beat Democrat Michael Dukakis. In 2000, Democratic Vice President Al Gore won the state by a 17-point margin.
But Martinez noted that two other recent polls showed the race neck-and-neck, and that prior Gonzales polls gave Kerry a wider lead.
“This is the third poll that Gonzales has done since June and Kerry’s lead has gone down in every one,” she said. “The president was down 14 points in June, 13 points in August and he’s now down 10 . . . we are chipping into his (Kerry’s) base.”
Martinez referred to two September polls on Maryland: A SurveyUSA poll showed Kerry and Bush tied, at 48 percent, while a Rasmussen Reports poll only gave Kerry a lead of 3 percentage points.
But some local pollsters have questioned the methodology of those polls.
Patrick Gonzales, whose firm did the latest poll, said that because those other pollsters are located outside Maryland, they may not have made sure that their respondents accurately reflected all parts of the state. That is dangerous in this race, he said, because each candidates’ support is so geographically concentrated in different parts of the state.
“What some people don’t understand is you have to balance the state correctly,” Gonzales said, drawing representative numbers of voters from urban and rural areas.
Even though Kerry only leads in a few areas of the state, he should win “because Prince George’s, Montgomery and Baltimore City sort of drive elections in Maryland,” Gonzales said.
Still, White said he is not taking anything for granted.
“We’re always going to run like we are behind,” said White.
In the Senate race, Martinez noted that “Pipkin actually closed his gap by six points,” but she conceded that Mikulski will still be hard to beat.
Korzi was more blunt, calling a Mikulski victory “basically a foregone conclusion,” because “she is really well liked across the state.”
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