By Josh Kurtz
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker would lead his closest Democratic opponents by 10 points if the gubernatorial primary were held today, according to a newly released poll – but undecided voters still carry the day.
The poll, conducted Dec. 27-Jan. 5 by Gonzales Research & Media Services of Arnold, Md., found Baker topping the Democratic field with 24 percent of the vote. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and former NAACP president Ben Jealous came in at 14 percent, and state Sen. Richard Madaleno was at 5 percent.
Former Michelle Obama policy adviser Krishanti Vignarajah and tech entrepreneur Alec Ross came in at less than 2 percent, Baltimore attorney Jim Shea was at 1 percent, and perennial candidate Ralph Jaffe had 0.4 percent.
Policy consultant Maya Rockeymoore Cummings registered 6 percent in the poll, but she suspended her campaign on the last day the poll was conducted, citing personal reasons. Her husband, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D), has been hospitalized.
In a race with so many candidates, the disposition of Cummings’ supporters could be among the many variables.
The survey queried 501 likely Democratic primary voters and carried a 4.5-point margin of error.
Significantly, fully one-third of voters were undecided about the Democratic field, suggesting the primary to take on Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is wide open.
“Competitive, multi-candidate primaries are daunting,” pollster Patrick Gonzales wrote in a memo accompanying the survey. “Voter turnout is light (25% range), often difficult to predict, and the policy distinctions between the various candidates are usually negligible, making problematic the task of advancing campaign themes and crafting messages that attract attention. The grassroots component plays a much more determinative role than in general elections.
“The winner here in Maryland will be the campaign that best negotiates these challenges and produces a successful coalition on June 26th.”
Beyond the horse race question, Democratic primary voters were asked to pick, among five topics, the most important issue for them in this year’s election. Forty-one percent said “removing Donald Trump,” 25 percent said “education,” 19 percent said “economy and jobs,” while 5 percent each said “climate change” and “immigration.”
The emphasis on Trump suggests that the Democratic primary electorate will be radicalized and angry, which could help a candidate with a full-throated progressive agenda.
Baker led among several key demographic groups. He took 25 percent from voters 18 to 40 years old, 30 percent among 41 to 54, 22 percent from voters 55 to 64, and 20 percent among voters 65 and older. For each age group, the undecided vote was 30 percent or more.
Baker led Kamenetz among men, 22 percent to 18 percent, with 14 percent for Jealous, and 5 percent for Madaleno. Thirty-six percent of Democratic men were undecided.
Among women, Baker took 25 percent, Jealous was next with14 percent, Kamenetz had 12 percent, and Madaleno had 5 percent. Once again, the undecided vote was high: 32 percent.
Baker took 30 percent of African-American voters – twice as much as Jealous, who finished second in that demographic. Kamenetz edged Baker among white voters, 21 percent to 18 percent.
Baker’s statewide lead is built mainly in the Washington, D.C., area (Montgomery, Prince George’s and Charles counties), where he took almost 44 percent of the vote. Jealous was next with almost 12 percent, Madaleno had 8 percent and Kamenetz took 3 percent.
Jealous finished first in Baltimore city with 22 percent of the vote, followed by Kamenetz with 19 percent and Baker with 11 percent.
Kamenetz led in metropolitan Baltimore, which included his own jurisdiction plus Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard counties. He took 29 percent to 14 percent for Jealous and 11 percent for Baker.
Strikingly, voters in the state’s rural areas – the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland – are significantly more undecided than urban and suburban Democrats. In Western Maryland, almost 68 percent of voters expressed no preference in the primary contest; on the shore, it was just under 66 percent.
The Gonzales firm plans to release a general election poll, pitting the Democrats against Hogan.