A recent poll conducted for Wes Moore’s gubernatorial campaign shows the former nonprofit CEO and best-selling author gaining on Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, the longtime frontrunner in the Democratic primary who has been stalled with roughly the same percentage of the vote for the last several months.
But 42% of the Democratic electorate remained undecided in the Moore campaign’s poll — confirming the views of many political professionals that the Democratic race remains unpredictable and could take several more twists and turns between now and the July 19 primary.
Still, the Moore campaign showed movement and clearly saw enough to like to want to circulate the poll publicly.
In the poll, a large plurality of voters remain undecided, which has been the case in all three surveys conducted for Moore since last September — and many others. And Franchot remains in the lead, an enviable position to be in with mail-in ballots set to go out soon and early voting scheduled to begin on July 7.
In the poll’s initial head-to-head, Franchot was the choice of 19% of the voters, compared to 13% for Moore. Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III was next with 11%, followed by former Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez at 6% and former U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. at 4%. Former Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler was at 3%, and 42% of voters said they remained undecided.
The poll of 601 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted May 5-9 (with a day off for Mother’s Day, May 8) by Garin-Hart-Yang Research, a leading national Democratic survey research firm. The poll carried a 4.1-point margin of error.
“Our recent survey reaffirms two key trends from the latest publicly-released surveys: (1) Peter Franchot, while he remains the front-runner, has seen his support become stagnant with literally NO movement since last September, and (2) Wes Moore is the ONLY candidate who has increased his support and as a result he has moved into second place, within striking distance of the lead,” Garin-Hart-Yang said in a polling memo.
When the firm surveyed Democratic voters for Moore’s campaign in November, Franchot was at 19%, and he was at 20% in the firm’s September poll. Moore has seen his support grow from 7% in both the September and November surveys.
Of the other candidates, only King has shown some movement, according to the Moore campaign poll. He was at 1% support in September and at 2% in November.
Baker was at 9% in November and 11% in September; Perez was at 7% in November and September; and Gansler was at 5% in both earlier surveys. In all cases, the numbers include voters who expressed support for the candidates and voters who said they were leaning toward supporting certain candidates.
The level of undecided voters has only dipped slightly, from 47% in November.
Moore’s pollster acknowledges the large number of undecided voters means the primary is still very much in play, but says underlying numbers offer reason for optimism for his candidate.
“Granted, the current proportion of undecided voters (42%) suggests the primary election remains very fluid,” the firm wrote. “However, the survey internals are very encouraging for Wes as the campaign heats up and voters start to pay more attention. “First, Wes’ voters are more firmly committed (54% support Moore strongly) to him than the front-runner’s are (45% support Franchot strongly), which suggests an atypical level of intensity for a first-time candidate.
“Second, Wes Moore is still in the process of increasing his name recognition (currently 45%), and the results among the ‘know Wes Moore’ voters is encouraging about Wes’ ability to further grow his vote as he gets better known: he is at 27% among primary voters who are familiar with Wes, compared to 19% for Franchot, and 11% for Baker.”
In an interview Saturday, shortly before he won the straw poll at the Western Maryland Democratic Summit in Flintstone, Moore said he’s “very happy with where our campaign is.”
“I think the data is continuing to reinforce the energy and momentum that we have,” he said. “The energy around this campaign is real. There’s something that’s happening in the state right now and I think people are tired of the small politics and small policies.”
Moore had a huge haul in the first campaign finance report of the year and has been advertising consistently on TV and radio for the past several weeks. He has also collected several high-profile endorsements of late.
But Moore has also been hit by published and broadcast reports that he has been embellishing part of his record and personal biography, and some strategists have suggested that could hurt him in the primary or the general election if he is the Democratic nominee. Moore dismissed those concerns and said he’s “building a uniquely impressive coalition that’s poised to win not just the primary but to win the general election.”
“I understand that politics can be a toxic environment,” he said. “But the way I look at it, elections are like an open book test. You’re given the answers. The only question is, do you actually know how to respond to them? And the answers I hear as I go around the state is that people are concerned with their own lives…The thing that I focus on is what the voters are telling us. And the voters are telling us that the divisiveness of politics, while it might be entertaining and click bait, is not actually what people want to hear us talk about. They want to hear us talk about how we’re going to impact their lives.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify that the poll numbers include the candidates’ supporters and people leaning toward supporting the candidates.