The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gov. Larry Hogan leads Democrat Ben Jealous by 20 points, Post-U. Md. poll finds

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, left, and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, right, shake hands before a debate in Owings Mills, Md. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

With less than a month until Election Day, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has built a formidable lead over Democratic challenger Ben Jealous, a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds, with few voters undecided and most preferring the incumbent Republican even on key Jealous issues such as health care and education.

Likely voters in Maryland support Hogan by a 20-point margin, 58 percent to 38 percent. Just 5 percent have not settled on a candidate.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1, Hogan appears to have assembled a coalition that cuts into the Democratic base, well ahead of Jealous in bellwether Baltimore County and running competitively in heavily Democratic Montgomery. Jealous leads Hogan in only one of Maryland’s major geographic blocs — Prince George’s County.

“If [Jealous] hasn’t gotten through just yet, I don’t see how there’s much room at this point” for him to do it in the next month, said Michael Hanmer, research director for the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland. “The level of support for Hogan, even among registered Democrats, is extremely high.”

Read full Post-U-Md. poll results

Maryland’s gubernatorial contest is an outlier in midterm elections dominated by races between GOP candidates aligned with President Trump and anti-Trump Democrats. Jealous is one of three Democrats competing to be the first African American to govern their states. But unlike Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida, who face non-incumbent, pro-Trump Republicans, Jealous is challenging a well-liked governor who has repeatedly distanced himself from Trump.

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The poll suggests that Jealous, a former NAACP president and first-time candidate who has vastly less campaign cash than Hogan, is struggling to introduce himself to Maryland voters. About a third of voters, 32 percent, hold no opinion of him, including nearly 3 in 10 Democrats.

Hogan’s lead over Jealous has widened by eight percentage points since the previous Post-U-Md. poll, which was taken in early June, before Jealous’s decisive primary victory. Thirty-five percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents support Hogan over Jealous, along with 91 percent of Republicans.

“I don’t quite know what he stands for, and it’s not clear what he would do. I haven’t gone out of my way to find out, either,” Somia Hickman, a 46-year-old Democrat from Montgomery County, said of Jealous.

Democrat Ben Jealous has struggled to build momentum in Maryland

She said she backs Hogan partly because she wants to avoid tax increases and partly because she has little information about Jealous — even though she voted for him in the primary. And given the divisiveness in national politics, she said, she feels having a Republican governor and Democratic legislature will be good for the state. “If you have only one party in power, you don’t always get the checks and balances that you need.”

Jealous has campaigned heavily on improving K-12 education and reducing health-care costs. But half of voters say they trust Hogan more to handle health care, compared with 36 percent for Jealous, while a similar share say they trust Hogan more on public education (48 percent to 36 percent).

Mike Schmidt, an African American college student from Prince George’s County, says that he does not know what Hogan plans to do about public schools but that he believes the Republican will “make the right choices.”

“It’s just that I’m used to Hogan,” said Schmidt, 20, who is not registered with a political party. “I feel he has good moral standards.”

Schmidt also said he doesn’t believe Jealous will do the things he has proposed. “I think he’s just saying what he thinks people want to hear right now to get the votes,” he said.

On two issues central to Hogan’s campaign — Maryland’s economy and taxes — voters trust Hogan by more than a 30-point margin. More than 3 in 4 voters rated the state’s economy positively, compared with fewer than half in February 2013.

Hogan and his allies have saturated parts of the state with roughly $7.5 million in television ads over the past few months, and the Jealous camp has been slow to respond — only recently going on the airwaves and spending $1.4 million.

The poll finds that the GOP media-blitz efforts appear to be paying off: Sixty  percent of voters say they have seen a Hogan ad over the past few months, and almost half say the ad had a positive message. Fewer than half — 44 percent — have seen a television ad about Jealous, and under a quarter describe the ad as positive.

Hogan pitches modest vision while Jealous aims to reshape state government

Katrina Krug, a Republican data analyst from Baltimore County, said she developed a particular affection for Hogan because of the way he handled his 2015 cancer diagnosis. “He seemed less politician and more real person,” she said.

Jealous has cast himself as a nontraditional candidate and said his strategy is to dramatically boost turnout among Democrats who vote only sporadically. His campaign frequently points out that Hogan trailed in polls in October 2014. But a Post-U-Md. poll then had twice as many undecided voters — 11 percent — and Hogan’s Democratic opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, had support from fewer than 50 percent of likely voters.

The Post-U-Md. poll finds that unfavorable ratings for Jealous have doubled since June, to 32 percent, while his favorable rating remains some 30 points lower than Hogan’s.

Even among Democrats, Hogan has slightly higher favorability ratings than Jealous — 59 percent to 52 percent. Hogan leads by 65 percent to 32 percent among all voters in Baltimore County, a swing jurisdiction, while voters in Montgomery County divide 51 percent for Hogan and 45 percent for Jealous.

Jealous has pushed plans to dramatically boost school spending, establish state-level universal health coverage, reduce prison populations, legalize marijuana and provide debt-free college at all public Maryland universities.

Some supporters said his vision aligns with Democratic values, and they’re drawn to his biography as the youngest person ever to lead the NAACP.

“I know Governor Hogan has done some good things, and I know that Mr. Jealous doesn’t have a lot of political history, but he’s a Democrat,” said Kathleen Davis, 63, an audiologist from Frederick who said she has always voted for Democratic candidates.

Susan Edwards, a 90-year-old from Prince George’s, said she plans to vote for Jealous because of the “good” he did at the NAACP, even though she does not know much about his plans for the state. “I think he is an all-around good person,” Edwards said.

The poll finds that about half of voters say the statements “he is honest and trustworthy,” “he really cares about people like me” and “he agrees with you on most policy issues” apply more to Hogan, while roughly one-third or fewer say each fits Jealous better.

“I know who Hogan is, I know what he’s done, and I trust him to go on to keep doing what he’s doing,” said David Fontaine, a 67-year-old Democrat and insurance salesman from Carroll County. “Mr. Jealous is unproven, in my opinion. . . . I don’t have any reason to distrust him, but I have no reason to vote for him.”

Hogan’s broad support does not seem to be providing much benefit for other Republicans running for statewide office. A Goucher College poll conducted last month found Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tony Campbell trailing Democratic incumbent Benjamin L. Cardin 56 percent to 17 percent. Republican Craig Wolf trailed Democratic Attorney General Brian E. Frosh by 32 points in the same survey.

The Post-U-Md. poll also finds that if Hogan wins reelection, 57 percent of voters would rather see the Maryland legislature controlled by Democrats “to act as a check on Hogan,” rather than Republicans “to support Hogan’s agenda.”

Democrats are virtually certain to maintain the majority in the state legislature, although Republicans are hoping to overcome Democrats’ supermajority, which enables them to easily override Hogan’s vetoes.

The Post-U-Md. poll was conducted by telephone Thursday through Sunday among a random sample of 870 Maryland residents, including 814 registered voters and 648 likely voters. The sample of registered voters has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points, while the sample of likely voters has an error margin of plus or minus 4.5 points.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.

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Hogan pitches modest vision while Jealous aims to reshape state government