Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has a 22-point lead in a head-to-head test against his Democratic challenger seven weeks before Election Day – and most voters say they’re solid in their choice.
New figures released by the Goucher Poll on Wednesday showed that 54 percent of likely voters in the state intend to vote to reelect Hogan, including 38 percent of Democrats. Former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous (D) rung up 32 percent.
The poll, conducted at the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College Sept. 11-16, surveyed 472 likely voters in the November general election. It had a 4.5-point margin of error.
Seventy-three percent of those polled said they were set on their candidate, while roughly a quarter said they could still change their mind.
“The number of people who have their minds changeable or who haven’t decided in the final weeks is relatively small,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “In a close race, like we had nationally in 2016, that relatively small number of people can impact the outcome. When the race isn’t close, it becomes a bit harder.”
And 2 1/2 months after the Democratic primary, Jealous still hasn’t gained traction with key parts of the electorate.
Forty-eight percent of Democrats said they intended to vote for him as their party’s nominee and 17 percent of independents are planning to support him. When it comes to African-Americans, who could be energized to cast ballots in favor of the state’s first black governor, 49 percent said they would vote for Jealous, compared to 35 percent who plan to vote for Hogan.
The only subset of likely voters that Goucher polled which Jealous wins is millennials, garnering 52 percent support to Hogan’s 33 percent.
Hogan, on the other hand, had widespread support among Republicans (91 percent), men (64 percent), white voters (64 percent) and those older than 55 (61 percent).
The poll was in the field earlier this month, before Jealous’ first television ad hit the airwaves. And the numbers could have an impact on his fundraising ability in the home stretch, Eberly said.
Hogan had a $9 million fundraising advantage over Jealous after the most recent campaign finance reports.
Jealous needs outside support, but will he get it with the numbers revealed in this and other polls?
An August poll by Gonzales Research and Media Services also showed Jealous trailing by double-digits, then 16 percent.
“In the weeks since the Gonzales Poll came out, the Jealous campaign hadn’t really done anything to change the narrative. In fact, they spent a lot of time dismissing and criticizing the Gonzales poll. … To see that he’s even lost ground since then is a bit surprising,” Eberly said. “Basically, these two polls confirm that Jealous is down by double digits and hasn’t been able to make up any ground in recent weeks.”
The poll numbers could reflect the Hogan campaign’s spending on media ads to tout his record, which have been bolstered by ads from the Republican Governors Association attacking Jealous.
“Ben Jealous has faced a months-long barrage of negative ads and has a substantial disadvantage in campaign fundraising — and it’s prevented him from defining his candidacy to the public and making gains on his opponent,” said Mileah K. Kromer, director of the Goucher Poll. “Hogan’s electoral strength continues to be grounded in political moderation and the confidence the public has in him to handle economic issues. We have less than two months to see whether Hogan can maintain his bipartisan voting coalition or if Jealous can turn out enough progressives to make up the difference.”
With the Democratic Governors Association battling to take governors’ mansions in swing states like Wisconsin and Florida, “How does [Jealous] make the pitch that they’ve got to reserve some of that money for Maryland with poll numbers like this?” Eberly asked.
The new Goucher Poll also gauged the effect of support from Hogan or Jealous on down-ballot races and President Trump’s effect on the election in general. It found that 38 percent of voters were more likely to vote for a candidate if they had Hogan’s support. About 26 percent of voters said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate supported by Jealous. Most voters, 50 percent, said their thoughts about Trump would influence their vote for Maryland governor “not at all.” About 27 percent said their thoughts on Trump would influence their vote “a lot.”
Voters think Hogan is better suited to handle the issues most important to them.
Twenty-five percent said the most important issue for them in picking their choice for governor was the economy and jobs. After the economy, voters listed as their top priorities: education, racial and social justice issues, and the administration of Trump/what is going on nationally. All three were listed as a top concern by 13 percent of the likely voters polled.
Voters said they had more confidence in Hogan’s ability to handle issues relating to the economy, preferring him over Jealous 66 percent to 23 percent. Fifty-one percent of likely voters also said they believed Hogan was better suited to handle issues like education and health care.
Education was the only issue where a majority of Democrats (52 percent) preferred Jealous to handle policy.
Also included in the poll were likely voters’ views on two other statewide races. A majority, 56 percent, said they would support incumbent Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin for U.S. Senate and 58 percent said they would support the reelection bid of Democratic Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.
All of it goes to show that nationalizing the race ― and attempting to paint Hogan as a radical conservative or Trump booster ― is not working for Democrats or the Jealous campaign, Eberly said.
“What [Jealous] has to do is basically say, ‘Look, there are policies that I advocate ― higher minimum wage, universal health care, the legalization of marijuana ― that a clear majority of you all support. You are happy with the job that Larry Hogan has done, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do more,’” Eberly said. “That’s the message that he’s got to pitch over the course of the next six weeks. … The question is: Can he?”
The poll was released as the Jealous campaign found itself dealing with something else entirely on Tuesday: the public disclosure that Tamela Baker, a member of the State House press corps from the Hagerstown Herald-Mail, had been vetoed as a panelist at the upcoming one-and-only debate among the gubernatorial candidates next Monday. Hogan’s campaign said Jealous vetoed Baker’s participation.
Jealous’ campaign released a statement in the afternoon with few details: “Both campaigns were able to change the outlets and representatives asked to participate in the debate,” said senior adviser Kevin Harris. “There are many reporters and outlets that we would have liked to include that are not being included. This type of back and forth is typical in debate negotiations.”
The debate is slated to take place Monday, with Maryland Public Television hosting and a panel of questioners, from the Herald-Mail, The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and WMDT in Salisbury.
Late Tuesday, Baltimore Sun editor-in-chief and publisher Trif Alatzas said the Sun’s role in the panel was under evaluation in the wake of Baker’s exclusion.
“We don’t believe it is in the public interest for candidates to determine the journalists who ask questions in a debate,” Alatzas said in a Sun article. “We are concerned about setting such a precedent, therefore we are reconsidering our participation in Monday’s gubernatorial debate.”
But then late Tuesday evening, Harris released another statement saying, “To be clear: the Jealous campaign does not have a problem with Tamela Baker being on the debate panel.” Instead, the statement took a swipe at the Hogan campaign for what the Jealous team characterized as the governor’s team’s unwillingness to consider additional debates in October. The two sides already squabbled publicly over the number and timing of debates earlier this month, after they could only agree on the one debate next Monday.
Following Harris’ late statement, Hogan’s deputy campaign manager, Douglass V. Mayer, countered, “Whatever little credibility Ben Jealous still had, it quickly evaporated with this latest ridiculous statement trying to dodge accountability for first turning down multiple debate opportunities, then trying to maneuver around media outlets he didn’t want involved, and then vetoing reporters he doesn’t like. But if it means we can get on with the debate on Monday, then we’re happy.”