- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

A poll released yesterday shows that the Democratic race for the right to oppose incumbent U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, is a statistical dead heat among two of the candidates.
The poll, conducted by Gonzales/Arscott Research and Communications between Aug. 10 and 18 among 337 registered Democratic voters, shows Delegate Mark K. Shriver with 31 percent of the support of likely voters and state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen right behind with 30 percent. Clinton administration trade official Ira Shapiro had 14 percent of the vote, and perennial candidate Deborah Vollmer had 4 percent. Undecided voters made up 21 percent and the margin of error for the poll is 5.5 points.
"The polls have all along showed us ahead, and we have always known that it was going to be a close race," said Jay Strell, campaign spokesman for Mr. Shriver. Mr. Shriver is the nephew of President Kennedy and the cousin of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and has always been the front-runner in the race, but his lead has narrowed as the election draws closer.
Carol Arscott, pollster for Gonzales/Arscott, said this could as a plus for the other candidates but cautioned that the race itself is still "too close to call."
"At this point Shriver is already so well known, he is already getting a lot of the vote he is going to get," she said.
Steve Jost, campaign manager for Mr. Van Hollen, said this is exactly what his campaign is banking on.
"The more people know about Chris Van Hollen, the more they like him," Mr. Jost said, noting the campaign was going to target the 21 percent of voters who are still undecided, as well as the 18 percent of voters the poll said were unfamiliar with him.
According to the poll, Mr. Shriver has a name recognition of 95 percent, Mr. Shapiro has 79 percent name recognition and Mrs. Vollmer has 54 percent.
The poll also found that Mrs. Morella still enjoys a favorable rating among likely Democratic voters 54 percent something the Democrats all said would not help her come November.
"I don't think people will turn out Connie because they don't like her," Mr. Jost said. "They will turn her out because she has become ineffective. After 16 years she has risen up the ladder to be chairman of [the Government Reform Committee subcommittee on the District of Columbia.] After all her time, that is not a glowing endorsement of her effectiveness."
Bob Meadow, a pollster for Decision Research, which is working on behalf of the Shapiro campaign, agreed.
"Its not that she is a bad person, its that she votes for the wrong leadership," he said of the eight-term representative who doesn't always toe the party line.
National Democrats see this race as their top chance in the country to pick up a seat in the closely divided U.S. House of Representatives. Currently Republicans hold a six-seat advantage.
The Democrat-controlled Maryland legislature, however, redrew Mrs. Morella's district as a result of the 2000 census, and the new 8th District leans more Democratic than it has in past years.
Tony Caligiuri, campaign spokesman for Mrs. Morella, said the numbers released yesterday were in line with what their campaign has found, and they are confident, no matter who the eventual winner of the Democratic primary is, Mrs. Morella will be victorious in November.
"The only frustrating thing to us is that we do not know who we are running against," he said.

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