Democratic Poll Shows Ball and Kittleman in Tight Howard Co. Race

A poll released Tuesday shows that a Democratic challenger to Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman (R) is off to a relatively solid start just a month after declaring his candidacy.

County Councilman Calvin B. Ball III (D) trails Kittleman, the Republican incumbent, in both likely voters and name recognition, but he and his campaign workers were encouraged by the initial findings.

Dr Calvin Ball - crop
Howard County Councilman Calvin Ball

“I think this is extremely positive news,” said Ball, who has been on the Howard County Council since April 2006, when he was named to the seat to finish a term. “It says, ‘you’re on your way, you’re on a very good path.”

In a head-to-head matchup, 39 percent of those voters surveyed said that if the election were today, they would back Ball, while 42 percent said they would vote for Kittleman,  who enjoys high name recognition countywide. Nearly 1 in 5 voters polled — 19 percent — were as yet undecided, the survey showed.

More than half the voters surveyed – 54 percent — had never heard of Ball, while 87 percent knew who Kittleman was.

Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh, N.C., firm that works for Democratic candidates, surveyed 617 Howard County voters Dec. 12-13, 2017, by automated telephone interviews. The poll had a 4-point margin of error.

Highlights from the survey were released Tuesday by Ball’s campaign.

Kittleman’s campaign manager Sean Murphy dismissed the nearly month-old poll as “fiction.”

“RoboDial polls are highly suspect, and this is clearly an attempt to assist his fundraising effort ahead of Wednesday’s deadline,” Murphy said.

He was referring to the Maryland State Board of Elections midnight deadline of Jan. 10 for any transaction — contributions and expenditures — to be included in the 2018 Annual Report. If filed electronically, that report must be submitted to the board by 11:59 p.m. a week later, on Jan. 17.

Ball, 42, who is term-limited and cannot run for county council again, announced Nov. 9, that he was taking on Kittleman, a first-term incumbent who beat his better-financed Democratic opponent, Courtney Watson, four years ago by 2,700 votes.

Ball lives in East Columbia with his wife and two daughters and represents an area that includes Long Reach and Oakland Mills villages in Columbia, as well as parts of Ellicott City, Elkridge and Jessup. He holds a doctorate in education and was a college professor.

Kittleman, 59, a lawyer by education and trade, is a married father of four who resides in West Friendship. He announced in June that he would seek a second term.

When it comes to name recognition, Kittleman benefits from having been a Howard County councilman, Maryland state senator and, for the last three years, county executive. In addition, his late father, state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, a longtime Maryland legislator, was well known and highly regarded in the county. State Del. Trent Kittleman (R) is the county executive’s stepmother.

The PPP poll was short on detail and did not include the demographic breakdown of voters who were interviewed. Nevertheless, the pollsters asserted that Ball has support from a plurality of women (42 percent), a majority of Democrats (57 percent), a majority of African-American voters (58 percent) and a plurality of voters 18-45 (47 percent).

Moreover, the survey did not say how many voters in each of three councilmanic districts mentioned in the poll – District 2, District 3 and District 4 — were actually surveyed. Each showed Ball leading Kittleman by wide margins, though the number of undecided voters was not accounted for. Watson carried those three districts in her bid for executive in 2014.

The PPP poll made no mention of District 1 or 5 – both of which Kittleman won handily four years ago against Watson. In fact, Kittleman won his most sizable margin against Watson in District 5, generally the western county, where he lives, capturing 72 percent of the vote to her 28 percent.

Kittleman is seen as a socially conscious, moderate Republican, as reflected in the closeness of his race against Watson, which he won with 51.2 percent of the vote — despite the fact that there were nearly twice as many registered Democrats in the county as GOP voters.

By contrast, two years later, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump captured just 30 percent of the vote, compared to 65 percent for Hillary Clinton, the Democrat.

That vote percentage for Trump is in keeping with findings in Ball’s poll, which reported that the president is “highly unpopular in Howard County with only 29 percent approving of his job performance.”

Looking ahead to the race against Kittleman, the councilman pointed to a jump of more than 12,000 newly registered Democrats in the county over the past four years as a major point in his favor, versus an increase of only roughly 700 new Republican voters. About 4,200 new voters have registered as independents in that period.

He has promised a “positive” campaign against his opponent.

“I think this election is about issues and values and who’s going to stand up to Donald Trump,” Ball said. “I’m not afraid to stand up to him.”

Early last year, Ball and Councilwoman Jennifer R. Terrasa (D) introduced legislation that would have made Howard County a sanctuary jurisdiction for undocumented workers – a proposal that Kittleman vetoed, saying the measure was a “hollow political statement.”

Nevertheless, Ball said, “I don’t think I need to paint my opponent as Donald Trump.”

Both he and his pollster noted the November wins of Democrats for mayor of Annapolis and Frederick as evidence of a trend away from Republicans in local elections, following Trump’s election.

Already registered as a candidate in the Democratic primary for Howard County executive is Harry M. Dunbar of Columbia. Dunbar, who has been an occasional candidate for office over the years, most recently challenged and lost to former County Executive Kenneth S. Ulman in the 2006 Democratic primary.

William F. Zorzi
Bill Zorzi was a Baltimore Sun reporter and editor for nearly 20 years, focusing on government and politics. An Annapolis bureau veteran, he wrote a weekly column, “The Political Game” for the paper.Zorzi and another former Sun reporter, David Simon, are longtime collaborators on acclaimed television projects, including the HBO series, “The Wire,” and the HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” which dealt with an explosive housing desegregation case in Yonkers, NY.


  1. Mr. Kittleman opposed and tried to kill the Howard Fair Elections law, which uses public funds to match small contributions of up to $150 for participating candidates for county council and county executive. This law was approved by the voters and the county council, which overrode Kittleman’s veto. the new system, which eliminates big special interest money, will be used for the first time in 2022. As Sen. Bernie Sanders pointed out, campaign finance reform is the only way to change our political process and defeat gridlock.

  2. This robo survey is Fake News, they didn’t interview younger voters. A bit surprising they would not reveal how many interviews they completed in each council district. Shocking the Democrats are voting for the Democrat….County Executive Kittleman has strong marks in the county and voters support his agenda. If Calvin Ball is so focused on Donald Trump he should run for federal office.


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