Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) remains broadly popular at the start of his fourth year in office and holds commanding leads over the three top Democrats vying to challenge him in November, according to a statewide poll released Wednesday.

The survey by Gonzales Media and Research Services shows Hogan's approval rating at about 71 percent among likely voters in 2018, which many analysts expect to be a wave election year for Democrats across the country because of controversies surrounding President Trump.

The approval rating is among the highest of Hogan's tenure, after polls last year showed him slipping into the low to mid-60s. It illustrates the steep path Democrats face in their efforts to recapture the governor's mansion.

Hogan has double-digit leads in the Gonzales poll in direct matchups with the top three potential Democratic candidates: Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and former NAACP president Ben Jealous. They are among seven Democrats competing in the June 26 primary.

In a theoretical matchup against Baker, 47 percent of respondents said they would vote for Hogan, compared with 37 percent for Baker and 16 percent who were undecided. The governor led Kamenetz 48 percent to 34 percent, with 18 percent undecided. Hogan led Jealous 49 percent to 36 percent, with 15 percent undecided.

Roughly 90 percent of Republicans backed the governor against all three prospective challengers, as did about 25 percent of Democrats and well over 50 percent of independents. In 2014, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, 23 percent of Democrats said they voted for Hogan when he defeated Democrat Anthony G. Brown.

Hogan's popularity is high across the political spectrum, with 86 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of independents — a critical part of the electorate for GOP candidates seeking statewide office — approving of his performance.

Democrats are hoping that with Trump in the White House, even a popular Republican could be vulnerable in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than 2-to-1. Maryland's last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., held a 56 percent approval rating in a June 2006 Washington Post poll but lost that year's election to Martin O'Malley (D) in what ended up being a down year for the GOP.

The party blasted Hogan this week for the loss of Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications, which will move its headquarters to New York, and the Democratic-majority House of Delegates opened the 90-day legislative session by voting to override the governor's vetoes of paid-sick-leave legislation and a bill to help people with criminal records apply to college. Analysts say the rest of the session may be similarly contentious, as politicians from both sides of the aisle seek to shore up their bases.

The Gonzales poll suggests Hogan cannot bank on Election Day support from voters who expressed only modest approval of his performance. Against Baker, the governor garnered 11 percent support among respondents who "somewhat approve" of the job he has done, compared with 62 percent support from those who "strongly approve."

At least 1 in 6 voters who approve strongly or somewhat of Hogan's performance said they do not yet have a preference in the gubernatorial race.

The poll, conducted between Dec. 27 and Jan. 5 among 823 likely voters in November's election, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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