A new Democratic poll on the Anne Arundel County executive race shows the Republican challenger, County Councilmember Jessica Haire, with a narrow lead over the Democratic incumbent, Steuart Pittman. But the poll also shows Pittman prevailing after voters are told more about the two candidates — and an outside organization seeking to boost Pittman’s re-election bid has set about to do just that.
The poll was paid for by Future Anne Arundel, a political action committee that formed earlier this year to support Pittman but is independent from his campaign. The survey of 931 likely voters, taken Sept. 14-18, showed Haire with 45%, Pittman with 41% and 14% undecided. Conducted by Change Research, a national Democratic polling firm, the poll had a 3.6-point margin of error — meaning Haire’s lead was just outside the margin.
That’s good news for Haire, who has run an aggressive, well-funded campaign against Pittman and has already aired four TV ads critiquing his term in office. Lately she has been hammering Pittman for the school bus driver shortage in Anne Arundel County, arguing that he’s responsible for countless hours of learning loss in county schools.
In the initial head-to-head, Haire led among men, 56% to 32%, while Pittman led among women, 49% to 35%. Voters of color favored Pittman, 58% to 21%, while Haire led among white voters, 52% to 37%.
For an incumbent, 41% support is not a great number with mail-in voting getting under way and early voting just a few weeks off. And the poll had some other troubling numbers for Pittman: just 27% of those surveyed viewed him favorably, while 42% said they viewed him unfavorably. Also, while Haire, despite emerging from an acrimonious Republican primary this summer, had consolidated GOP support, with 90% of Republicans backing her candidacy, Pittman had consolidated only 79% of Democratic support.
Raymond Glendening, one of two Democratic strategists behind Future Anne Arundel, said Pittman was the beneficiary of a Democratic surge when he was elected in 2018, and that many Democratic voters still aren’t all that familiar with him.
“They never got to know Steuart Pittman,” Glendening said. “They just pulled the Democratic lever. That’s Steuart’s opportunity and his challenge this time around.”
Political professionals in both parties have viewed Pittman as something of an accidental county executive, propelled by unexpected political developments and trends both nationally and locally. And yet, Anne Arundel appears to be changing demographically and trending slightly more Democratic.
Glendening and Brian Doory, the other Democratic strategist working for Future Anne Arundel, also see reason for hope in the poll numbers: Significantly, 28% of respondents said they had no fixed opinion of Haire, and 19% said they had never heard of her, meaning the Democrats believe they have an opportunity to define her in the weeks ahead.
That process is beginning this week, when Future Anne Arundel is set to air a 30-second TV ad painting Haire as a “MAGA extremist.” The group is investing at least $100,000 on an initial buy, and may air additional ads between now and Election Day.
The ad begins with color footage of a merchant turning an “open” sign on a store door, followed by a picture of what appears to be a medical clinic, followed by footage of children walking out of a school building.
“Our county has made tremendous progress, but MAGA extremist Jessica Haire is too extreme for Anne Arundel County,” a narrator says as the screen turns black and white and the children start walking backwards. “She wants to take us back.”
The ad then spotlights Haire’s July vote in the county council against a resolution affirming the county government’s support for abortion rights (it passed 4-3, along party lines), her decision to hire a political consultant associated with the Proud Boys, and campaign literature she sent out during the Republican primary that showed her target shooting — just days after mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas.
Haire, the narrator says at the end of the ad, is “too extreme for Anne Arundel County.”
Democrats are hoping that message resonates.
The pollsters who conducted the survey for Future Anne Arundel presented those facts about Haire to poll respondents. They also supplied negative information about Pittman, including that he had raised taxes and taken campaign contributions from developers.
Voters were also offered positive messages about each candidate: about Pittman’s record on tax equity and fighting crime and about Haire’s support for lowering property taxes and curbing government spending.
Offered the choice then, Pittman took the lead in the poll, 47% to 41%.
“Following messaging, Steuart Pittman leads Jessica Haire in the race, 47-41, by consolidating support among key groups in the Democratic coalition (+9% support from initial vote) such as women (+8 in support) and people of color (+10 in support) that were initially largely undecided,” the pollsters wrote in a memo on the survey. “While the results show this to be a competitive race, Jessica Haire’s low name recognition combined with effective negative messaging can help Steuart Pittman define her to voters that aren’t familiar with her yet. That mixed with consolidation of Democratic support should provide County Executive Pittman with a path to victory.”
Doug Mayer, a campaign adviser to Haire, was dismissive of the poll and the forthcoming ad campaign.
“There’s nothing more pathetic or a clear argument that Pittman is losing than having his lackeys put out a poll showing he’s losing,” he said.
Mayer said Haire is ahead because she is focusing on the issues that voters care about and is not aiming to frighten voters the way Pittman appears to be.
“A poorly-made attack ad isn’t going to change that,” Mayer said.
It isn’t clear yet how much Future Anne Arundel has raised and where the money is coming from. Through Aug. 23, the PAC had raised $30,000 — $20,000 from the MSEA Fund for Children and Public Education, the political arm of the state teachers’ union, and $10,000 from William Seale, an executive in an investment firm, professor emeritus of finance at George Washington University, and Annapolis philanthropist and civic activist.
Another independent expenditure organization, Anne Arundel Forward, was set up earlier this year to boost Haire’s candidacy. But campaign finance records have shown that the organization has not been active since the Republican primary, where it mainly spent money to attack Haire’s principal opponent, former state Del. Herb McMillan.
Pittman on Tuesday was touting his endorsement, announced earlier in the day, by Planned Parenthood Advocates for D.C., Maryland & NoVa PAC.
“Protecting women’s reproductive rights is central to my vision of justice in Anne Arundel County, and with the right to choose under attack at a federal level, local leadership is more important than ever,” he said.
Editor’s note: The story has been updated to include comments from a Haire campaign adviser.