- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

The 15-point lead that Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend held over U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the Maryland governor's race has all but vanished, according to a poll released yesterday that shows the candidates in a statistical dead heat.
Mrs. Townsend and running mate Charles Larson, the likely Democratic nominees, received 47 percent of the vote, and the presumed Republican ticket of Mr. Ehrlich and Michael S. Steele got 43 percent of the vote in the statewide poll conducted by Annapolis-based Gonzalez/Arscott Research and Communications Inc. Aug. 10 to Aug. 18.
"This confirms something we have been hearing and feeling for some time that voters are looking for an alternative to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend," said Paul Schurick, a spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich.
Of the 801 persons surveyed for the poll, 56 percent are registered Democrats, 32 percent are Republican and 12 percent are independent. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed are white, and 24 percent are black. With a margin of error of 3.5 points, the poll indicates that Mrs. Townsend and Mr. Ehrlich are nearly even.
The results of the latest survey are similar to those earlier this year that showed Mr. Ehrlich making significant gains, while Mrs. Townsend picked up little support.
In a poll conducted by the same group five weeks ago, Mrs. Townsend led Mr. Ehrlich 48 percent to 41 percent. A Mason-Dixon poll taken in March showed Mrs. Townsend leading Mr. Ehrlich 49 percent to 36 percent. And in January, Mrs. Townsend was leading Mr. Ehrlich by of 51 percent to 36 percent, according to a poll by Bethesda-based Potomac Inc.
Mrs. Townsend's office said yesterday that these polls didn't mean anything to voters.
"The only poll we think is important is the one where people will vote in November, and in that poll we will be in the lead," said Kate Philips, a spokeswoman for the candidate.
Mrs. Townsend has recently been criticized for not effectively attacking Mr. Ehrlich. She hired veteran spokesman Peter Hamm this week, just days after she hired Karen White to head the state Democratic Party's campaign. Ms. White led Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mrs. Townsend to victory in 1998.
The poll released yesterday showed that Mr. Glendening has not helped Mrs. Townsend's candidacy, and the number of people who approve of his performance in office has dropped from 50 percent to 45 percent.
Miss Philips said Mrs. Townsend has been campaigning to spread her message and vision among the people. "She has been out on the streets of Maryland meeting people," she said.
Most of the changes in the poll numbers are slight, falling within its 3.5-point margin of error.
Mr. Ehrlich whose congressional district stretches from Baltimore County northeast through Harford County improved from 16 to 19 percent of the vote in Baltimore city, while Mrs. Townsend dropped from 77 percent to 73 percent. The Republican also improved his lead in the Baltimore suburbs, from 55 percent to 58 percent.
Forty-nine percent of the men surveyed chose Mr. Ehrlich, as did 52 percent of the whites. Mrs. Townsend did better among women, getting 54 percent. While 75 percent of blacks voted for Mrs. Townsend, Mr. Ehrlich gained two points among black voters, from 13 percent five weeks ago to 15 percent.
Mrs. Townsend struggled early on to gain the support of black leaders after she chose a white running mate who had only recently switched from the Republican Party over several eager black contenders.
Mr. Ehrlich, whose running mate is black, has received the endorsement of prominent Maryland state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a Democrat who represents a historically black voting district in Baltimore.
"We have put in an extraordinary amount of effort into the African-American community," Mr. Schurick said. "This is a community that has always voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate."
The poll showed that Mr. Ehrlich's share of the Democratic vote is up three points to 21 percent. Mrs. Townsend slipped from 74 percent to 72 percent among Democrats.
But the lieutenant governor has picked up two points in the Washington suburbs, getting 56 percent of the vote compared with Mr. Ehrlich's 33 percent.
She is also closing in on Mr. Ehrlich in the Eastern Shore, where he leads by a single point, 43 percent to 42 percent.

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