By Josh Kurtz
As Maryland Republicans sketch out their strategy for capturing five Democratic-held state Senate districts in 2018, the seat now occupied by Annapolis area Sen. John Astle (D) looms large in their plans.
Former Del. Ron George (R) has been running for the seat for two years, and appears to be the choice of much of the GOP establishment. He reported $89,000 in cash on hand as of mid-January; his next fundraiser is scheduled for Tuesday night at Skipper’s Pier in Deale.
But Del. Herb McMillan (R) has not ruled out a run for the Senate seat – and a new poll commissioned by his campaign shows he would be very competitive with George in a hypothetical GOP primary.
The poll, obtained by Maryland Matters, was conducted by a national polling firm that has worked for other Republicans in Maryland. Taken during the third week in May, it showed George and McMillan essentially tied in the initial head-to-head matchup.
George was preferred by 29 percent and McMillan by 25 percent of the 279 likely Republican voters surveyed – but that was within the poll’s 5.9-point margin of error, making the contest a statistical dead heat. Significantly, 43 percent of voters said they were undecided.
Seventy-one percent of voters could identify George, who sought the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2014; 45 percent viewed him favorably and 6 percent viewed him unfavorably. The rest had no opinion. McMillan’s name ID was a shade lower, at 63 percent. His favorable-unfavorable mark was 37 percent to 10 percent, while 16 percent had no opinion.
When brief factual, biographical descriptions of the two men were read to the survey respondents, McMillan jumped ahead: He took 53 percent while George moved to 32 percent, as compared to George’s initial 29 percent to 25 percent advantage.
Dist 30 Ballots
The pollster next read a series of “informed” questions, described as “some statements you might hear in the Republican campaign” for state Senate. Two showed McMillan in a fairly favorable light, bucking the status quo, while two about George were less likely to please GOP voters, associating him with former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the notion that lawmakers are more interested in lining their pockets than protecting taxpayers. After those questions were read, McMillan’s support was 52 percent, while George’s fell to 26 percent.
McMillan, who prides himself on going against the grain, has not offered a timetable for making a decision on the Senate race. He had $67,000 in his campaign account as of mid-January.
Astle, who has held the Senate seat since 1995, is running for mayor of Annapolis this year. He has signaled that he is likely not to seek another Senate term in 2018 if he loses the mayoral election in the fall.
The Democratic picture in District 30 has been in flux for the past few months, and was made more so with House Speaker Mike Busch’s (D) disclosure last week that he had a liver transplant – even though he filed for re-election a week earlier. Sarah Elfreth, a former State House lobbyist and ex-president of the District 30 Democratic Club, is expected to seek the Senate seat.