WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore, continues to lead all comers — fellow Democrats and Republicans — in the race to replace U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who is retiring, a new survey shows.
If the state’s Democratic primary election were held today, Cardin would win 39 percent of the vote and his nearest rival, Kweisi Mfume, would capture 31 percent, according to a survey by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies of Annapolis. Mfume is a former congressman and ex-chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
And should Cardin win the September primary and face Republican candidate Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, the likely GOP nominee, the poll shows him winning with 49 percent to Steele’s 35 percent, with 16 percent undecided.
“We’re working hard. We’re not taking anything in this race for granted, but it’s clear Ben Cardin is the strongest candidate to take on the Bush-Steele machine in November,” Cardin’s campaign spokesman, Oren Shur, said.
The Gonzales poll also matched Steele against Mfume in the November election. In that head-to-head match, Steele polled slightly better — 39 percent — but still trailed Mfume’s 44 percent, according to the telephone survey of 819 registered Maryland voters taken between April 4 and April 13.
Mfume’s spokesman, Walter Ludwig, was optimistic about the results.
“The race is wide open and there’s a ton of people undecided,” said Ludwig. “We feel very good about these numbers.”
Steele’s percentages were lower than the last Gonzales study, conducted in October. In that poll, Cardin won 46 percent of the vote, with Steele receiving 38 percent, according to Patrick Gonzales, who carried out the survey. The study also found Steele with 42 percent and Mfume with 40 percent.
“Fundamentally, what’s going on is Democrats in Maryland are voting for the Democratic nominee in substantial numbers, so that means they’ll vote for whoever is the nominee in September,” Gonzales said.
The African-American voting demographic — traditionally a Democratic staple — could be the determining factor in the race, analysts have said. Among black voters, Cardin would get 72 percent, while Steele would get 21 percent. Should Mfume win the nomination, almost 80 percent of black voters favored Mfume, while 16 percent would vote for Steele.
In the primary, almost 70 percent of black voters would cast ballots for Mfume over Cardin, who would get nearly half of white voters.
“What you’ve got here is a race driven sharply by race, so turnout is going to be an important indicator,” Gonzales said.
Ludwig, however, said the primary election will not be determined by race.
“This campaign is going to get settled on issues . . . and on the national mood, and how people feel about the direction of the country,” he said.
A recent poll by the Democratic National Committee found that up to 44 percent of black voters in Maryland would consider voting for Steele, according to published reports.
“The Democrats’ own poll shows Michael Steele making incredible inroads in the Democratic Party and communities across Maryland,” Steele spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said. “Voters will continue to see the clear contrast between Michael Steele’s positive message of empowerment and his opponents’ divisive race-based negative attack strategy.”
Steele’s sagging poll numbers might be balanced by the fact that his campaign, for the second consecutive quarter, raised more money than Cardin. Though Cardin has $2.6 million cash on hand and Steele has $1.67 million, the lieutenant governor brought in almost $1.3 million during the first three months of the year while Cardin raised just under $1 million.
So far, none of the three candidates have spent much money on media, such as campaign ads on television, which typically account for much of a campaign’s disbursements.
In the primary election poll, no other Democratic candidate received double-digits: psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren had 4 percent; history professor Allan Lichtman had 2 percent; and businessman Joshua Rales and former Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen each had 1 percent. However, 22 percent, said they were undecided.
Gonzales said he was not surprised by the minimal support for the remaining five candidates.
“You have two major candidates that have a base of support and that makes it hard for the others,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Rales said the high percentage of undecided voters indicates that it is too early for the other numbers to mean much.
“That’s a huge number so I don’t think (the survey) shows anything,” she said. “I don’t think this (race) is going to start until the summer.”