Thursday, January 12, 2006

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is leading Democratic contenders in his re-election bid, and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele is ahead of Democrats challenging him for a U.S. Senate seat, a new poll shows.

According to a telephone survey by New Jersey-based Rasmussen Reports, Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, would receive 47 percent of the vote, and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, would get 42 percent in a head-to-head contest.

The poll, which was conducted Tuesday, shows Mr. Ehrlich collecting 50 percent of the vote and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat, receiving 41 percent in a head-to-head matchup.

The Rasmussen poll coincides with a recent survey by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies showing that Mr. Ehrlich’s approval rating has risen to 53 percent this month from 49 percent in October, which had been his lowest level since taking office in 2003.

In addition, the new poll results mark a significant shift. A Rasmussen survey in November showed Mr. Ehrlich trailing Mr. O’Malley by six percentage points and Mr. Duncan by nine percentage points.

Meanwhile, Mr. Steele, a Republican, would get 45 percent of the vote, and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat, would garner 40 percent in a head-to-head contest to replace retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat, according to the Rasmussen poll.

Mr. Steele would collect 45 percent of the vote, and former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat, would get 38 percent in a head-to-head contest.

Tuesday’s automated phone survey of 500 likely Maryland voters has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell yesterday said the governor is “gratified by the results.”

“This demonstrates that the citizens of Maryland recognize that Governor Ehrlich has restored fiscal sanity to Maryland, protected taxpayers, while also making historic investments in education and health care,” he said.

O’Malley campaign manager Jonathan Epstein expressed skepticism over the Rasmussen results.

“Are you sure the poll didn’t have ‘Brian’ Ehrlich beating O’Malley?” he said, noting a Rasmussen Reports article released yesterday that identified Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer as Bob Schweitzer. “The most recent, credible poll in Maryland has O’Malley leading Ehrlich by double digits.”

Steele campaign manager Leonardo Alcivar said the poll results are “another example of the tremendous momentum that Michael Steele has, just under 3 months into his Senate candidacy.”

Spokesmen for Mr. Cardin and Mr. Mfume declined to comment.

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