The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Larry Hogan has commanding lead over Ben Jealous, Goucher poll finds

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, left, and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous. (Pete Marovich for The Post and AP)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan holds a commanding 22-point lead over Democratic challenger Ben Jealous in a new poll that suggests the Republican is consolidating substantial support from groups that traditionally back Democrats in the deep-blue state.

The Goucher Poll, released early Wednesday morning, found likely voters favor Hogan over Jealous by a margin of 54 percent to 32 percent. Undecided voters have dwindled to just 9 percent of the electorate, the poll found, meaning Jealous must win the lion’s share of persuadable voters and bank on dramatically heightened Democratic turnout to have a shot on Election Day.

In addition to Hogan securing his Republican base by large margins, the poll found he had the support of 38 percent of Maryland Democrats, who outnumber GOP voters in the state by more than 2 to 1.

Even though most voters support the issues on which Jealous has campaigned — a $15-an-hour minimum wage, boosting education spending, and Medicare-for-all — they trust Hogan more on education, the economy and health care, the poll found.

“They like the issues, but they haven’t connected them to Jealous,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College in Towson, Md., which surveyed 472 likely voters from Sept. 11 to Sept. 16. “It’s clear that Ben Jealous needs to introduce himself to Marylanders.”

While Hogan and the Republican Governors Association have spent more than $2 million in a sustained advertising blitz in Maryland since June, Jealous launched his first television ad Monday, with a modest buy in the Baltimore market. The Goucher poll — the latest to show Hogan with a double-digit lead in the race — was completed the previous day.

A quarter of voters identified the economy and jobs as the most important issue that would determine whom they picked in the governor’s race — more than any other topic. That bodes well for Hogan, since likely voters said they thought he would handle economic development and job creation better than Jealous by 66 percent to 23 percent.

If elected, Jealous — a progressive political newcomer who previously headed the NAACP — would be the first African American governor in Maryland, a state with the largest proportion of black residents outside the Deep South.

The poll found that while Jealous holds a 14-percentage-point advantage among black voters, about 35 percent of those voters plan to vote for Hogan. That’s more than twice the proportion of the black vote Hogan won during his upset win in 2014.

Hogan’s opponent at the time, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, had a campaign widely panned by Democrats and pundits as suffering from an “enthusiasm gap” that drove down Democratic turnout. Nonetheless, Brown — who also is African American — received 79 percent of the black vote, according to a post-election poll conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland.

“African Americans could get [Jealous] into the governor’s mansion, but his message isn’t resonating,” said Sandy Pruitt, a Democrat who is co-founder of the Prince George’s County nonprofit group People for Change.

During a meeting this month of the South County Democratic Club, Pruitt, who is African American, surveyed a Jealous flier that promised Medicare-for-all, debt-free college and the creation of green jobs. She said voters in Prince George’s are more interested in help recovering from the foreclosure crisis or keeping seniors in their homes.

“It doesn’t seem to me like he would be a big advocate for black communities,” Pruitt said.

Wala Blegay, a volunteer with Our Revolution Maryland and a strong Jealous supporter who attended the meeting to speak on his behalf, said she frequently hears similar concerns. While knocking on doors in the predominantly African American town of Forestville, she said, many residents told her that “Hogan’s TV ads are working.”

“There is little knowledge of who Ben is at this point, and they think he’s going to raise their taxes,” Blegay said.

Hogan and the RGA have aired ads statewide portraying Jealous’s proposals for universal health care and expanded pre­kindergarten as too costly for the state. Jealous and his allies have yet to respond on the airwaves.

Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College, said the poll’s findings may make it harder for Jealous to persuade outside groups to spend money on his candidacy and help combat Hogan’s $9 million cash advantage.

“Larry Hogan is in an incredibly strong position for reelection, and Ben Jealous has a lot of ground to close in the next [few] weeks,” Eberly said.

Jealous has struggled to generate support from some of the state’s mainstream Democratic leaders, including Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett. Leggett said in July that he was concerned about the impact of Jealous’s proposals on residents of the affluent county and wanted to discuss that and other issues before deciding whether to endorse him. Leggett met with Jealous last week and said Tuesday that they plan to meet again next month. He did not respond to questions about whether Jealous would get his support.

Some Democrats who might be inclined to vote for Jealous say they’ve yet to find a reason to do so.

“Hogan seems to be doing a pretty good job,” said Barrington Fair, a Silver Spring resident. He said he usually looks for a candidate focused on “those who need the help most,” but he knows too little about Jealous to make a judgment on his campaign.

The many Democrats willing to cross party lines for Hogan do not appear likely to do so for other Republicans on the ballot. Both Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) are leading their Republican challengers by more than 30 percentage points.

The poll has a 4.5 percentage point margin or error.

Jennifer Barrios, Rachel Chason and Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report.