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Governor's Race Close, Poll Says

By Tom Stuckey
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, January 21, 1998

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A new poll indicates that Maryland’s gubernatorial race remains static, with Gov. Parris Glendening and Republican challenger Ellen Sauerbrey statistically tied and almost one-fifth of voters still undecided.

In the Mason-Dixon poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, 43 percent of voters said they would vote for Glendening if the election were held today. Forty percent said they would vote for Sauerbrey, and 17 percent said they were undecided.

That is a swing of six points in Glendening’s favor since a July poll, when the voters split 45 percent to 42 percent in Sauerbrey’s favor. But both polls are considered a statistical tie.

The poll also gave Glendening and Sauerbrey big leads over party rivals in primary election matchups, with Ms. Sauerbrey getting support from 58 percent of likely Republican voters and Glendening 43 percent of Democratic voters.

Howard County Executive Charles Ecker, Sauerbrey’s only opponent, drew support from 12 percent of Republicans, with 30 percent undecided. Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann trailed Glendening with support from 17 percent of the voters. The remaining 40 percent of Democrats favored other candidates or were undecided.

The poll, which surveyed 801 people randomly by telephone last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, was conducted for Maryland Public Television, the Journal newspapers and other media clients.

It was released as Glendening went before the legislature to deliver his annual State of the State address and submit his budget.

In the 40-minute speech, the governor talked about the state’s economic rebound during his administration, and outlined accomplishments of the last three years in areas such as education and crime.

But the focus of the speech was on the Pfiesteria problem. The microbe killed fish, closed rivers and sickened people who came into contact with infected waters last summer on the Eastern Shore.

Glendening said the state will work with the poultry industry to come up with alternative uses for nutrient-rich manure instead of using it as a farm fertilizer. He said the state will make significant investments to break the cycle of growth of the Pfiesteria microbe in the Chesapeake Bay.

Tim Phillips, Glendening’s campaign manager, discounted the importance of the Mason-Dixon poll, saying, “early polls don’t really mean much.”

He said once voters focus on the record of Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, “they are going to vote to re-elect the governor.”

Carol Hirschburg, spokeswoman for the Sauerbrey campaign, said the poll demonstrates Ms. Sauerbrey’s broad-based support and also “shows that Glendening is very disliked.”

“The most striking thing about the poll is that Glendening just isn’t moving ahead as the incumbent governor who’s had three years to show the people what he can do,” she said.

Del Ali, senior vice president of Mason-Dixon, said Glendening’s problem is “a credibility problem, a likeability problem.”

He said the governor should be worried that his numbers are not going up despite his successes in the legislature last year, a healthy state economy, a tax cut and a falling crime rate.

But despite the poll numbers, Ali said Sauerbrey is still the underdog in a Democratic state that is a little to the left of center.

“If she starts seeing herself as the frontrunner, she’s going to lose,” he said.

The relative standing of Glendening and Sauerbrey has remained relatively constant since the primary election in 1994.

In eight of nine polls taken by Mason-Dixon since the primary, only one showed the two candidates more than seven percentage points apart. That was in January, 1995, shortly after the election, when Glendening opened up a 20 point margin that slid to 4 percentage points.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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