- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

The candidates are in a dead heat in the race for governor of Maryland, according to a new poll that shows Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Republican, leading by a single point over his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
The poll, conducted by Annapolis-based Gonzalez/Arscott Research and Communications Inc., shows Mr. Ehrlich with 46 percent of the vote, compared with Mrs. Townsend's 45 percent. A total of 840 voters around the state were polled between Oct. 14 and 20.
"This is a close race. There is no doubt about it," said Peter Hamm, a spokesman for the Townsend campaign. "Just about every poll shows the electorate is evenly divided."
The new poll shows that Mr. Ehrlich has 60 percent of the vote in Baltimore suburbs to Mrs. Townsend's 31 percent, but she led her opponent with 74 percent of the vote to his 20 percent in Baltimore city. In the Washington suburbs, Mr. Ehrlich slipped by a point to 39 percent, while support for Mrs. Townsend rose by one point to 59 percent.
Ehrlich campaign spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said they were pleased with the poll results, although their lead is within the 3.5 percent margin of error. "This is great news. It still reflects what polls taken in recent weeks have been saying," she said.
Gun control could give Mrs. Townsend a needed boost. The poll surveyed Marylanders on gun control and found 53 percent believed there are enough gun-control laws in the state and there was a need to better enforce them. Thirty-six percent felt a need for stronger gun laws and 8 percent believed there are too many such laws.
Yesterday, gun-control advocates endorsing Mrs. Townsend for governor excused the current administration's failure to fund a Maryland gun-sale law for three months, permitting hundreds of people to buy guns without criminal-background checks.
"Of course I'm concerned. I'm just not sure if it is a problem within the administration," Ginni Wolf, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, told reporters gathered in Annapolis for a scheduled announcement of the group's support for Mrs. Townsend.
Yesterday morning, Mrs. Townsend canceled the campaign event because of the shooting of a bus driver in Montgomery County potentially tied to the string of 13 sniper shootings in the Washington area this month.
The gun-control advocates dismissed questions about the recent lapse in background checks and other instances in which state authorities failed to enforce Maryland's background-check law such as the case of Richard Spicknall II, who bought a handgun and murdered his two toddlers in 1999 despite being under a restraining order that should have prevented the gun purchase.
"I think that a lot of this has come up without the knowledge of the administration," said Miss Wolf.
The state archives sent Gov. Parris N. Glendening a letter March 27 alerting him to the lapse in background checks, and the funding was restored in July, said Leonard Sipes, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.
Dan Ronayne, spokesman for the Republican Party's unified campaign in Maryland, questioned the ease with which the gun-control advocates excused the background-check problems.
"When groups that advocate stricter gun laws and vigorous enforcement of existing gun laws show no outrage at Mrs. Townsend's failure to manage that system, it is, at best, inexplicable," he said.
"One can only imagine what their response would have been if a Republican administration had failed to enforce background checks," Mr. Ronayne said.
He said the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which was supposed to endorse Mrs. Townsend yesterday, already had aired TV ads criticizing Mr. Ehrlich's position on guns. The group previously had criticized Arizona officials for not funding background checks.
The Maryland gun-control advocates also spoke against Mr. Ehrlich yesterday, criticizing his high ratings from the National Rifle Association, his vote in congress to repeal the assault-weapon ban and his opposition as a state representative to the ban on cheap handguns known as "Saturday night specials."
Lillian Publionnes-Nolan, president of the Montgomery County chapter of the Million Mom March, another group advocating gun-control that has endorsed Mrs. Townsend, said questions about the current administration's record on background checks were irrelevant.
"If Bob Ehrlich had his way, we would not be having this conversation right now, because there would not be any background checks," she said.
In the race for Maryland's 8th Congressional District, the poll shows Republican candidate Rep. Constance A. Morella leading her Democratic challenger, Christopher Van Hollen, by two points. She had 44 percent of the vote to his 42 percent.
Afshin Mohamadi, a spokesman for Mr. Van Hollen, said they were happy with the results because their candidate has gained 13 points since the last poll conducted by the same group.
The poll also showed that Mrs. Morella's positive rating dropped from 64 percent in July to 56 percent. Mr. Mohamadi attributed that to what he called her "negative campaigning."

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