- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has gained support in the race for Maryland governor, and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend appears to have stalled below 50 percent, according to a new poll that suggests the contest will be closer than expected.
In the telephone survey of 829 registered voters across the state who said they were likely to vote in the general election, Mrs. Townsend led Mr. Ehrlich 48 percent to 41 percent, with 11 percent of respondents undecided.
The poll, which has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points, was conducted by Gonzales/Arscott Research & Communications from July 2 through July 7.
It is the first poll that includes the candidates' recently selected running mates, asking respondents to choose between the Democratic ticket of Mrs. Townsend and retired U.S. Navy Adm. Charles Larson and the Republican ticket of Mr. Ehrlich and state Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele.
Results indicate that 97 percent of likely voters know and have an opinion of Mrs. Townsend, while a quarter of them do not know who Mr. Ehrlich is.
Gonzales/Arscott is a Maryland-based firm formed in 1999. The firm's principals are Patrick E. Gonzales and Carol A. Arscott, a former chairman of the Howard County Republican Party.
Ehrlich campaign spokesman Paul Schurick said the results affirm that the strategy of reaching out to black and independent voters is working. A similar poll taken by Gonzales/Arscott in January before either candidate declared showed Mr. Ehrlich trailing by 15 percentage points.
The Ehrlich campaign announced yesterday it will appear at a candidate forum sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Baltimore on July 18. Staff for Mr. Ehrlich, who has challenged Mrs. Townsend to debate early and often, billed the event as "possibly" the first debate of the campaign.
But Mrs. Townsend's staff disagreed. Staffers said she is expected to participate, despite a schedule conflict. However, her staff said candidates would give separate presentations rather than debate, which she has said she will not do until after the primaries on Sept. 10.
Mrs. Townsend posted 48 percent in a poll taken during May. Mr. Ehrlich posted 43 percent in that poll.
And in a March poll by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, Mrs. Townsend drew 49 percent of respondents, while Mr. Ehrlich drew 36 percent.
But some analysts said Mrs. Townsend could have more strength with women, who typically make up a greater proportion of the electorate than the 50 percent of female respondents in the poll.
And a Townsend campaign source said Mrs. Townsend will begin broadcasting television spots statewide soon after previewing the ads today.
That will have little effect on her campaign war chest, which has about $6 million, compared with Mr. Ehrlich's $3 million.
But as the September primaries and November election draw closer and the gubernatorial contest gains more attention, it will be easier and cheaper for Mr. Ehrlich to get his face and message before voters.
"The next poll will be more interesting. People are beginning to pay more attention, and the tendency of voters is to decide later and later," said political scientist Herb Smith, a professor at McDaniel College, formerly Western Maryland College.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Townsend and Adm. Larson have been barnstorming Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, where Mr. Ehrlich's support is strongest.
"We're very happy with the reaction we're getting across the state, and that is borne out in everything we've seen publicly and privately," said Townsend campaign spokesman Mike Morrill.
In Montgomery County, where both campaigns must succeed to win, Mrs. Townsend will open a field office tomorrow and Mr. Ehrlich will do the same later this month.
Any Republican running for statewide office in Maryland needs to draw Democrat votes to win, because registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans almost 2 to 1, according to the state elections board.

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