Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) holds a nine-point lead in the race for governor in heavily Democratic Maryland, according to a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, with voters who cite taxes as their top concern strongly favoring Republican Larry Hogan.
Less than a month before the election, Brown leads Hogan 47 percent to 38 percent among likely voters, the poll found. Eleven percent are undecided, and Libertarian Shawn Quinn draws the support of 4 percent.
The poll suggests many voters are worried about taxes and what many see as a faltering economy and, in large part, blame Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Brown’s mentor. Hogan, an Anne Arundel County businessman, is trying to capitalize on their unease by promising to roll back tax increases.
But while the race has tightened, economic worries so far don’t appear to offset the built-in advantage Brown has in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a 2 to 1 ratio.
Maryland voters say they trust Brown more than Hogan on education, health care and social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. Brown has trumpeted plans to expand pre-kindergarten offerings and is airing ads that portray Hogan as outside the mainstream on social issues.
Gloria Owens, 62, a former worker at the Social Security Administration, is among those prepared to vote for Brown. A registered Democrat who lives in Baltimore, Owens said she likes Brown’s pitch to expand pre-kindergarten programs, something that “is definitely needed around here.”
Hogan’s promise to cut taxes “really doesn’t grab my attention,” Owen said. “I’m concerned about taxes, but not as much as other things.”
Hogan is seeking to make inroads with voters like Barbara Risacher, 72, a Democrat and former Harford County Council member who thinks taxes are too high — particularly for those of retirement age — and wants a business-minded leader who can streamline government.
“You have so many layers of bureaucracy,” said Risacher, a retiree who lives in Joppa. She said she’s not a fan of Brown but isn’t yet sold on Hogan.
The race remains fluid, with more than three in 10 likely voters saying they could change their minds before Nov. 4. More Hogan supporters say they definitely plan to stick with their candidate than do Brown supporters. Fewer voters are paying close attention to the race than at this time four years ago.
Brown campaign manager Justin Schall said the campaign was “encouraged by the support from across Maryland.” Brown’s ticket, he said, will “work every day to fight for every single vote, in every precinct, in every county in Maryland.”
Hogan spokesman Adam Dubitsky said other recent polls have shown an even tighter race. “We feel very confident that on Nov. 4, Marylanders will end Anthony Brown’s failed economic policies of high taxes and fewer jobs,” he said.
The race for Maryland attorney general is not nearly as competitive as the governor’s race, the poll found. Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) leads Republican Jeffrey Pritzker, a Towson lawyer, 49 percent to 26 percent. Libertarian Leo Dymowski draws 5 percent, with 20 percent undecided.
In the governor’s race, Brown holds sizable leads in the heavily Democratic suburbs around Washington, while Hogan edges Brown in the Baltimore suburbs and leads by 2 to 1 in the more rural eastern and western parts of the state. Among women, Brown leads 53 percent to 30 percent, while men tilt toward Hogan, 47 percent to 39 percent.
Hogan is heavily favored by white voters, 54 percent to 33 percent, while Brown — who would be Maryland’s first African American governor — leads overwhelmingly among black voters, 77 percent to 6 percent. Exit polling from past elections suggests that there is opportunity for him to build further on that advantage. In 2006, for example, 84 percent of African American voters supported O’Malley in his reelection bid. And in 2012, 97 percent of African Americans supported President Obama as he ran for reelection.
Hogan is attempting to replicate the path to victory of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who in 2002 became the first Republican in a generation to be elected governor of Maryland. Ehrlich won the votes of 22 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents in that race, according to exit polling. In the Post/U-Md. poll, Hogan is attracting 7 percent of voters who describe themselves as Democrats and 50 percent of independents.
In May, as Hogan and Brown were still competing for their respective nominations, Brown confidently told supporters that he would have only “a little bit of a molehill” to conquer if he won the Democratic primary. A Washington Post post poll in early June seemed to bear that notion out: Brown had an 18 percentage point lead over Hogan among registered voters in a hypothetical matchup.
Since then, the issue of taxes has clearly been working in Hogan’s favor. In the new poll, 30 percent of likely voters identified taxes as the single most important issue in deciding their vote — ahead of public education (20 percent), jobs (17 percent) and health care (11 percent).
Of those who picked taxes, seven in 10 side with Hogan. Likely voters also trust Hogan over Brown to do a better job with taxes, 47 percent to 36 percent. That issue, however, is the only one of seven the poll tested on which Hogan holds a clear advantage.
Voters give the nod to Brown on health care, despite his oversight last year of the botched rollout of the state’s online health insurance exchange. Both Hogan and one of Brown’s Democratic primary rivals, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, hammered Brown on that issue, saying it raised questions about his competence to govern.
In a race in which turnout will matter, Brown’s campaign is trying to hang onto voters like Nicholas Wilson, 69, an independent who said that he always votes for Democrats but might skip over the governor’s race when filling out his ballot this year.
While he said he would never vote for Hogan, Wilson said he’s unhappy with how O’Malley has run the state, especially the implementation of many new fees and taxes.
“We have high gas taxes but horrible infrastructure,” said Wilson, a Montgomery County resident.
The poll suggests that O’Malley, one of Brown’s biggest boosters, may now be a liability for the Democratic nominee. The governor’s job-approval rating plunged to just 41 percent among registered voters — down 13 percentage points since February, and the lowest level for O’Malley ever in a Post poll.
That’s a problem for Brown, because 63 percent of registered voters say Brown’s agenda would be similar to O’Malley’s. Brown has tried to cast himself as his own man but also has said he wants to build on O’Malley’s successes.
Among those who think Brown would be similar to O’Malley, Brown and Hogan are tied. Among those who see O’Malley and Brown as “very similar,” Hogan beats Brown by a wide margin. Brown is far ahead of Hogan among voters who see the Democratic nominee as different from O’Malley.
Support for O’Malley is especially weak in the Baltimore suburbs, a region that has emerged as a battleground in recent governor’s races. When Ehrlich prevailed over then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) in 2002, he did so in part by racking up a large margin in Baltimore County. Four years later, O’Malley fought Ehrlich to a near-draw in that county and unseated Ehrlich. In 2010, O’Malley prevailed there — and statewide — in a rematch with Ehrlich.
According to the Post/U-Md. poll, Hogan has the support of 48 percent of likely voters in Baltimore County, compared with 37 percent for Brown.
O’Malley’s standing remains relatively strong in the Washington region — 58 percent of registered voters in both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties approve of his job performance. Only in Baltimore City does Brown have bigger leads over Hogan than in those two jurisdictions.
The poll found that 41 percent of voters say the economy has gotten worse since O’Malley was elected governor eight years ago, compared with 27 percent who say it has gotten better. Of those who say it has gotten worse, the vast majority say O’Malley deserves at least some of the blame.
The poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday among a random sample of 1,005 adults reached on conventional and cellular phones. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points for registered voters and five percentage points for likely voters.
Scott Clement and Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.