Early Democratic Poll Shows Baker, Adams Leading Statewide Primaries — But Many Voters Undecided

Former Prince George's County executive Rushern L. Baker III led a poll taken last month on the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Two familiar names, former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, are ahead in an early poll of the 2022 Democratic primary for governor. But more than 40% of likely voters said they were undecided, and even candidates who have run for statewide office multiple times before or held prominent positions aren’t as well-known as they might imagine.

In an early test of the Democratic primary for comptroller, Bowie Mayor Timothy J. Adams held a narrow lead over state Del. Brooke E. Lierman of Baltimore City. But more than 70% of voters were undecided in that contest.

As candidates for statewide office slowly begin to mobilize for 2022, state Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s) commissioned a poll to test their early standing. Peters pays to survey Democratic voters every four years well before the statewide primary, which will be held next year on June 28. A copy of the poll was shared with Maryland Matters.

“I call it my ‘see which way the wind is blowing’ poll,” Peters said in an interview. “It’s early, but you get an idea of where people need to be to get to the top.”

Peters said he has yet to endorse a candidate in the gubernatorial race.

The poll of 301 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted by Gonzales Research & Media Services May 17-22. It had a relatively high 5.8-point margin of error.

The poll tested the nine men who are already running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination or are likely to join the race. It showed Baker, the runner-up in the 2018 Democratic primary, ahead with 21.9% of the vote. Franchot, who is completing his fourth term as comptroller and formally joined the gubernatorial contest more than a year and a half ago, was next, with 17.9%.

“Baker’s advantage is grounded in his support among African Americans and his solid showing in the Washington region (35%),” pollster Patrick Gonzales wrote in a memo accompanying the survey. “Franchot’s strength is with white voters (27%) and the 22% and 30% he’s receiving in the Baltimore region and rural Maryland, respectively.”

The only other contender in double digits was former Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, with 10.3%. He has yet to declare his candidacy. Next was former attorney general Douglas F. Gansler, who finished second in the 2014 primary for governor, with 3.7% in the poll.

Rounding out the field: Author and former foundation CEO Wes Moore (2%), former U.S. Education secretary John B. King Jr. and Baltimore tech entrepreneur Michael Rosenbaum (1% each), former Clinton administration official Jon Baron (0.7%) and former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain (0.3%).

But a plurality of likely Democratic voters were undecided: 41.2%.

Democrats generally viewed all the candidates favorably — to the extent that they know them at all. Twenty-nine percent of voters said they didn’t recognize Franchot’s name, while 36% didn’t recognize Baker. Perez, a former Montgomery County councilmember who held consequential jobs with the Obama administration and in state government, was unknown to 40% of voters, while Gansler, who spent eight years as attorney general, was unknown to 48% of voters.

More than three-quarters of likely Democratic voters said they didn’t know Moore, King, Rosenbaum, Baron or Jain. Only Jain, who lost a bid for Montgomery County council in 2018, has run for political office before.

King, who started a progressive advocacy group, Strong Future Maryland, last fall, chalked up his first endorsement from a member of the General Assembly on Thursday. Del. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery) said King “has the experience, ideas, and heart to lead our state forward.”

Charkoudian happens to count King, Franchot and Perez among her constituents.

Good showings in early polling taken well before the candidates have begun advertising or campaigning aggressively are often a testament to name recognition as much as the effectiveness of their campaign operations. But Baker only joined the Democratic scrum and began raising money recently; his poll showing could fuel a surge of interest and campaign cash.

The nine Democrats are vying to replace popular Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who is term-limited. Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz is the leading candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination so far, though perennial candidate Robin Ficker is also running.

Democrats are highly undecided about who should replace Franchot as comptroller.

Adams, a wealthy government contractor who was elected Bowie mayor in 2019, was favored by 16.3% of the voters surveyed. Lierman, who is finishing her second term in the legislature, was the choice of 13% — while 70.8% of Democrats were undecided.

Ironically, Adams led among women voters, 18.6% to 13% — even though Lierman is the only Democratic woman seeking statewide office at the moment. The two candidates were tied among male voters, 12.9% to 12.9%.

The lone Republican candidate for comptroller so far is Harford County Executive Barry Glassman.

Peters’ poll asked Democratic voters whether they favored a law permitting the sale of marijuana to adults 21 and older: 69.1% said yes, while 23.9% said no. Seven percent of voters gave no answer.

The General Assembly is likely to take up a cannabis legalization bill in the 2022 session.

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