The race for Howard County executive is close – within the margin of error – according to a Democratic poll taken three weeks ago and obtained by Maryland Matters on Tuesday.
It stands in contrast to two recently-released polls on the election but is consistent with another Democratic survey taken in August.
Maryland political professionals in both parties regard the race in Howard County as one of the true bellwether elections in the state this year.
Allan Kittleman, the well-funded Republican incumbent, has high name recognition, comes from a well-known and well-respected family, has crafted a centrist record, and is taking full advantage of incumbency.
The Democrat, County Councilman Calvin Ball, is a credible challenger by any standard, but he’s less well-known and has less cash on hand than Kittleman. Yet Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost 2-1 in Howard County, so Ball can win – especially if there’s a blue wave in November.
Polls in the race have been all over the place. The latest poll to be made public, taken for Ball’s campaign by Garin- Hart-Yang Research Group, suggested that the election is very close.
The poll showed Kittleman preferred by 46 percent of the voters while Ball had 43 percent. The survey of 402 likely voters, taken Sept. 10-13, had a 5-point margin of error.
“The trial heat standings are impressive given Kittleman’s 84% name ID among Howard County voters, versus Calvin’s 53% name ID,” the pollsters wrote.
According to the survey, when voters were able to identify both candidates, Ball was preferred by 47 percent compared to 42 percent for Kittleman, “which suggests that the challenger has more room to grow once he gets better known.”
The polling memo did not provide a sample size for that second head-to-head matchup, or a margin of error.
Howard County voters are showing their partisan leanings, the pollsters said. In the poll, respondents said they preferred a Democratic county executive to a Republican executive by a 48 percent to 34 percent margin.
Education could also be a pivotal issue in the county. Asked in the Garin-Hart-Yang poll which candidate would be better at supporting public education, 26 percent said Ball and 25 percent said Kittleman. Thirty-six percent of poll respondents who knew both candidates well said Ball would do a better job of supporting public education, compared to 24 percent who answered Kittleman.
“The Howard County executive race is already competitive despite the inherent advantages of the Kittleman name and Allan Kittleman’s strong name ID,” the pollsters concluded. “… Calvin Ball has a strong opportunity to defeat the incumbent provided he garners the resources to INCREASE his name recognition.”
It’s possible that the Garin-Hart-Yang polling memo is being shopped around for that very reason — to boost fundraising in the home stretch of the campaign.
But an independent poll on the race taken in mid-September showed Kittleman with a healthy 16-point lead.
Partisan polls on the race conducted in August showed widely divergent results. A Kittleman poll showed the incumbent with a double-digit lead, while a poll conducted for an independent group set up to aid Ball showed the race within single digits.