Wargotz has little chance against Mikulski in U.S. Senate race, Post poll finds

Senator Barbara Mikulski chairs a hearing by a Senate subcommittee on Metro safety.
Senator Barbara Mikulski chairs a hearing by a Senate subcommittee on Metro safety. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
By Ben Pershing and Kyle Dropp
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 3, 2010; 6:37 PM

Sen. Barbara Mikulski has a commanding lead in her race for a fifth term, according to a new Washington Post poll, though her popularity has eroded among key groups since her last reelection campaign.

The Maryland Democrat leads Queen Anne's County Commissioner Eric Wargotz (R) among registered voters, 59 percent to 24 percent, and among likely voters, 61 percent to 29 percent. Mikulski tops Wargotz in every region of the state and among nearly all demographic groups.

Wargotz, who beat 10 other candidates in the Sept. 14 Republican primary, suffers from low name identification in the state: Just 19 percent of registered voters knew enough to have an opinion of him - 10 percent viewed him favorably, 9 percent unfavorably - while 81 percent said they had no opinion.

Mikulski, meanwhile, scored a rating of 52 percent favorable and 25 percent unfavorable, with 23 percent expressing no opinion.

Mikulski's favorability number has declined by 12 points since a Washington Post poll in January 2004, the most recent year she was on the ballot, while the shares of respondents rating her unfavorably or having no opinion each have risen by 6 points.

Democrats are expected to do poorly in many races across the country in November, and sitting lawmakers from both parties are dealing with an angry, change-oriented electorate.

"The drop obviously reflects a national lack of enthusiasm for incumbents," Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, said of Mikulski's decline. "There are probably some people who don't know much about her. . . . [52 percent] is not a bad number but it's not a Mikulski-like number, and that's worth noting."

Mikulski won reelection in 2004 with 65 percent of the vote, after taking 71 percent in both the 1998 and 1992 elections and 61 percent in her first victory in 1986.

Age gap

Older voters know Mikulski well and remain a solid base of support; among voters 55 and older, her rating in the new poll was 64 percent favorable, 25 percent unfavorable.

Younger voters appear to be both less familiar with and less enamored of Mikulski. Among registered voters aged 18 to 34, Mikulski's favorable rating dropped from 53 percent in 2004 to 32 percent now, while her unfavorable rating rose by 9 percent and the percentage expressing no opinion increased by 12 points, to 48 percent.

Even among younger voters who said they liked Mikulski, some appear to be unfamiliar with her and her work. Though her seniority makes her an influential voice on Capitol Hill, Mikulski is not a top party leader or committee chairwoman, and she never has had the kind of close race that would draw national attention to her campaigns.

"I don't know too much about her," said Paul Kittredge, 31, a Silver Spring independent who said he had a favorable impression of Mikulski overall.

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