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Ehrlich appears to be losing GOP traction

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Gov. Martin O'Malley and Robert Ehrlich talk about the impact of the recession on the Maryland economy and possible means of job creation.

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By John Wagner, Aaron C. Davis and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 25, 2010; 12:03 AM

Heading into the final week of his reelection bid, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley holds a commanding lead over former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., whose comeback campaign has failed to capitalize on continuing anxiety over the economy and anger at Washington, a Washington Post poll has found.

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The poll shows O'Malley (D) ahead of Ehrlich (R) 54 to 40 percent among likely voters, despite majorities who rate Maryland's economy as not so good or poor and who say they are dissatisfied or angry with the federal government.

When Ehrlich entered the race in April, that discontent, which has bolstered Republicans elsewhere, appeared to be working for him. But while other GOP candidates have gained traction with an anti-tax, anti-incumbent message, the poll suggests that Ehrlich's case for returning him to power has fallen flat in heavily Democratic Maryland.

In a Post poll in May, more voters said they would trust Ehrlich than O'Malley to handle the state's economy, deficit and taxes, among the top issues in the race.

Now - after countless campaign appearances, scores of TV ads and three debates - those numbers have flipped. The new poll found that likely voters trust O'Malley more on the economy, 51 to 40 percent, and, by slightly smaller margins, on the budget and taxes.

Moreover, the percentage of voters with an unfavorable view of Ehrlich has jumped by 10 percentage points in less than a month - probably the result of a barrage of negative ads by the better-funded O'Malley campaign and Democratic-leaning groups that have sought to discredit Ehrlich's gubernatorial tenure.

O'Malley's favorability numbers have stayed about the same, and the poll shows that the incumbent is locking down many of the key constituencies he will need to prevail Nov. 2, including Democrats in the vote-rich Washington suburbs.

O'Malley's lead has edged to 14 points from 11 in last month's poll, and four in 10 of Ehrlich's supporters say they expect O'Malley to win a second term. About nine of 10 O'Malley supporters say they expect the Democrat to win.

Clewell Howell, a Towson resident who said he is getting by on steady work as a plumber, said he will absolutely vote for Ehrlich, because he is scared that "the second [O'Malley] gets reelected, he'll be raising taxes."

But like other right-leaning poll respondents, Howell, 50, said he also has no idea how Ehrlich can pull it off. O'Malley prevailed by 7 percentage points in 2006.

"To be perfectly honest, I'm not terribly impressed with [Ehrlich's] campaign. I didn't think there was any magic there," Howell said.

In the poll, about nine in 10 Democrats side with O'Malley, and a similar proportion of Republicans back Ehrlich. Independent voters favor Ehrlich, 52 to 36 percent.


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