Maryland may be on wrong track, but voters like conductor O'Malley

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By Mike DeBonis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2010; 9:15 PM

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is, right now, in a place where a lot of his fellow Democrats around the country sure wish they were.

According to new Washington Post poll numbers, the state's voters are suffering from a malaise comparable to the rest of the nation's. Among likely voters, 49 percent feel that the state of Maryland is on the wrong track, compared to 40 percent who think things are moving in the right direction. Nearly 60 percent rate the state's economy as "poor" or "not so good," with a four-point margin of error.

Everywhere but Maryland, that's been the spark for an anti-incumbent inferno. And yet: 52 percent of likely voters in the state say they'll be pulling the lever for O'Malley anyway - that's 10 points better than his opponent, former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. His approval rating is at 57 percent among likely voters - the highest of his tenure.

Compare O'Malley's plight to that of fellow Democrat Adrian M. Fenty.

The incumbent D.C. mayor, a Post poll showed, had the opposite problem. In the District, the August poll indicated that residents' approval of the city's direction was at its highest point in a decade, but Fenty, burdened with high unfavorability ratings, was vanquished in the city primary earlier last month by nearly 10 percentage points.

What gives?

For that, we go to the phones.

Sometimes, it's not the economy, stupid. "I've gotta be honest, it's more of a feeling than anything else," said Philip, 41, a Montgomery County resident and registered Republican who has voted for Ehrlich in the past. (He did not want to share his full name because he is a government employee.)

He prefers O'Malley over Ehrlich despite thinking the state's on the wrong track.

"I've liked his past track record in Baltimore [as mayor]. Ehrlich has always struck me as being slick and not a lot of substance," Philip said, adding: "When you really get down to it, O'Malley has been showing leadership, when Ehrlich is more of a politician."

And to some voters, bombarded with media reports about lousy economic conditions nationwide, context matters.

Carolyn Kelly, a Baltimore resident, also thinks the state is on the wrong track but supports O'Malley.


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