Democratic, GOP bids for Maryland governor tight as primary election approaches

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Ahead of the polls for early voting in Maryland this week, a new poll shows a majority of likely voters have not decided who they want to fill the seat vacated by temporary Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

The poll, conducted by Goucher College, found no clear front-runner among the Democratic or Republican candidates to succeed Hogan, as campaigns are in full swing, shooting ads in people’s homes and pasting literature on people’s doors and sweat it out at parades and farmers markets.

“There’s a surprising number of undecided voters across the board, which means people aren’t paying attention,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Voters from both parties have another thing in common: they are afraid of inflation.

According to the poll, both Democrats and Republicans called inflation a “big concern,” with 72 percent of Democrats and 90 percent of Republicans calling it a top priority. The same percentage of Republicans cited gas prices as a top concern, while 71 percent of Democrats cited the environment and climate change. Crime and public safety were top concerns for 83 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Democrats.

Three candidates — State Comptroller Peter Franchot, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, and best-selling author and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore — are statistically in a three-way tie to lead the 10-man race for the Democratic nomination. Just 2 percentage points separated Franchot, who received 16 percent, and Perez and Moore, who had 14 percent each.

Meanwhile, the two leading candidates for the Republican nomination, Del. Fredrick’s Dan Cox, who has the support of former President Donald Trump, and former Maryland Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schulz, who is supported by Hogan, separated by less than three percentage points. Cox leads with 25 percent.

The poll, which polled 403 likely Democratic voters and 414 Republicans and has an error rate of nearly 5 percent, found 35 percent of Democratic voters and 44 percent of Republican voters were undecided. Most who knew who they would vote for said their choices were not fixed.

Schulz calls on Democrats to strengthen their GOP opponent

The uncertainty in the closing stages has caused campaigns to do whatever they can – wherever they can – to engage with voters.

Voter turnout is expected to be low. While the state Supreme Court was weighing a legal challenge to the ticket redistribution earlier this spring, it pushed back the primary by three weeks to July 19, which for many is the peak of summer. Observers said it is now even more important for campaigns to engage with the party’s most loyal voters to ensure they drop their ballots by mail, vote early or attend Election Day.

“In a year of low turnout, every little nudge, every touch counts,” said Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College.

Over the weekend, Perez wiped sweat from his brow as he knocked on doors in Montgomery County on the Saturday morning before the start of the weekend-long Fourth of July parade.

As a woman slowly opened her door, Perez quickly rattled off some of his recent endorsements (The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun), handed her a mailer with a picture of him and former President Obama on the back (Obama has no endorsement in the running) and asked for their support. On the unanswered doors, he wrote a personal note saying he was sorry to miss them.

Perez said he’s confident he’ll win Montgomery County, where he lives and was once on the county council. Four of the ten candidates in the race come from the select district. The lawns in the neighborhood of Silver Spring were sparsely dotted with campaign signs for council and state elections, and within a door of each other a Moore sign and a Douglas Gansler sign.

Franchot, who is running a new TV ad at the Baltimore market, announced late Friday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, had mild symptoms and was fighting from home until he can safely return to the trail.

Moore, who has challenged all his opponents, launched a new radio commercial featuring US Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), one of a long list of well-known elected officials who support him. “Wes represents a new generation of leaders with the courage to confront and solve the problems we face every day,” says Mfume.

Meanwhile, former nonprofit chief Jon Baron, a first-time Democratic nominee who is largely self-funding his campaign, has also run a new television ad in the Baltimore market that dismisses previous efforts to solve the state’s problems. Baron received 2 percent in the poll. Former Attorney General Douglas Gansler, former US Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., Ashwani Jain, retired teacher Ralph Jaffe and Socialist Jerome Segal also trailed the top three Democratic candidates by single-digit support.

Maryland has a glass ceiling. The Democrats won’t break it this year.

Franchot, who has been an auditor since 2007 and is the most well-known nationally, remained at the head of the bunch. But the poll and its margins appear to show that Franchot’s earlier lead is fading slightly and that the race is still wide open.

Rushern L. Baker III, former Prince George’s County chief executive, who suspended his campaign last month, was not included in the poll. At the time, Baker stated that he was officially retiring from the race and supporting one of his opponents. Last week, a state elections official said Baker, who had backed public funding, was still a candidate, although he wasn’t actively running.

No candidate who has received public funding has ever been eliminated from a race. Under campaign finance laws, Baker was prevented from supporting the $1 million he received from the state to support his campaign without returning it.

How Baker’s appearance on the ballot will affect votes is another uncertainty in the race.

“I think that’s one of the big unknowns,” Kromer said. “Rushern Baker will definitely get some votes.”

Several elected officials who supported Baker have since switched allegiances. Last week, Prince George’s County Council member Mel Franklin endorsed Moore, telling a news conference that “there’s no other candidate that Rushern Baker has talked about more than Wes Moore.”

In the Republican race, Eberly said, the Schulz/Cox horse race shows how popular Trump is with Republicans — even in Maryland.

“Cox is the perfect candidate for a grassroots election where most people aren’t paying attention,” he said.

The two remaining Republican candidates, Attorney Joe Werner and recently expelled former Rep. Robin Ficker, received 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively, in the poll.

Early voting begins on Thursday. Democratic, GOP bids for Maryland governor tight as primary election approaches

Dustin Huang

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