Leggett gets love, but not necessarily votes, in early poll of Montgomery executive race

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett has a solid job approval rating (64 percent). Better than two-thirds of likely Democratic primary voters (68 percent) believe that the county is headed in the right direction.

But that doesn’t make Leggett a lock for a third term in 2014.

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That’s the major takeaway from an early summer poll commissioned by Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) as she explored her own run for county executive. The survey of 500 Montgomery Democrats with a history of voting in primaries, conducted by Fred Yang of Garin Hart Yang Research Group, did not have encouraging news for Ervin. It showed her well-regarded by those who knew of her, but lacking the name recognition to overtake Leggett and former County Executive Doug Duncan in a countywide contest.

The poll, which has a 5 percent margin of error, is both a bit old and quite early--a year from the primary. It was in the field on June 18-19, only a week after Leggett announced he was running again. The sample also skews toward whites aged 60 and over. All that said, it’s still an intriguing look at the state of play in Montgomery by a nationally prominent pollster. The findings strongly suggest that while there is plenty of time, Leggett has work to do if he’s going to fend off Duncan’s challenge.

A trial heat shows Duncan with 35 percent, Leggett at 27 percent and County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg) with 10 percent. Twenty-eight percent are undecided.

Yang called the race quite fluid. Of Duncan’s 35 percent, only about half (54 percent) strongly favored him. Leggett showed roughly the same split in his vote.

Overall, Yang said 61 percent of the primary electorate is “persuadable,” his description for voters who are undecided or only weakly committed to a candidate.

Leggett’s job approval rating, and the high “right direction” number are generally signs of good health for an incumbent, indicators that voters are in a “status quo” mood. His 95 percent name recognition and personal favorability score (59 percent positive 19 percent negative) are also assets.

But Yang said a “shockingly low” proportion are actually committed to re-electing him: 23 percent. Thirty-eight percent want “someone else,” and 39 percent are “not sure.”

Duncan enjoys 89 percent name identification--atypical for a politician who has not been on a Montgomery ballot since 2002, Yang said--and a personal favorability score of 61 percent positive and 11 percent negative. His “retrospective” job approval rating is higher than Leggett’s: 69 percent. It means that Duncan has the unusual advantage of not being the incumbent and still having a significant segment of voters remembering his three terms in a positive light.

Leggett trails among voters who believe the county is on the wrong track (18 percent). But even among those with an optimistic view of the future, Leggett’s margin over Duncan is just 35 percent to 28 percent.

Yang said this means Leggett is not gaining credit for the positive direction of the county. But he concludes that with an aggressive campaign to “sync” up his stature with the favorable views of the county’s direction, he can overtake Duncan.

Neither campaign had much to say about the poll, and whether it was consistent with any of their own research.

“I’m not sure about those results,” said Leggett. “I feel pretty good about where we are.”

In an e-mail, Duncan campaign manager Kurt Staiger said: “Doug is running because he wants the opportunity to make Montgomery County a better place to live, work, and raise a family. He has fresh ideas and a clear vision to get Montgomery County working.”

For her part, Ervin, who has yet to announce whether she will run for re-election to her council seat, said the poll has a significant message.

“The electorate in Montgomery is changing,” she said. “We’ve had only two county executives that most people can remember. The poll says to me that people are ready for a change. It just didn’t happen to be my time.”

 
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