- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 19, 2016

ANNAPOLIS — Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is enjoying an unusually high approval rating in deep-blue Maryland as he enters his second year in office, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

Overall, 67 percent of Maryland voters approve of the first-term governor’s performance, 19 percent disapprove, and 14 percent have no opinion, according to the survey by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies.

In comparison to his predecessors, Mr. Hogan is riding a wave of unprecedented popularity in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 2-to-1. The state’s previous Republican chief executive, Robert Ehrlich, achieved his highest approval rating — 57 percent — in August 2003; Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, reached his high mark of 58 percent in January 2011.

Among Republicans Mr. Hogan has a 94 percent approval rating and a 78 percent rating from independents. He did not fare as well with Democrats, receiving a 49 percent rating.

In addition, 60 percent of Marylanders say the state is heading in the right direction, and 22 percent said it’s going in the wrong direction.

Pollster Patrick Gonzales attributed some of Mr. Hogan’s popularity to the “cancer bump.” The governor was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in June and became an advocate for cancer patients during his five-month struggle with the disease. He announced he was cancer-free in November.

“I’m convinced that it has something to do with the way he’s dealt with and handled himself on issues outside of politics,” Mr. Gonzales said. “He’s got a style that’s connecting, and it’s not tied into partisan politics at this point.”

State Sen. Michael J. Hough, Carroll County Republican, said Mr. Hogan has “done a very good job of focusing on taxes and spending, and that’s what people said was the No. 1 issue.”

“The last election was really a rejection of one-party Democrat rule and Martin O’Malley and tax increases, and I think people are glad to see that the governor is pushing for tax reform and tax cuts and trying to keep spending under control, and that’s been a huge problem in Maryland for years,” Mr. Hough said.

But other members of the General Assembly said the Republican governor’s approval ratings would be contingent on his performance in this legislative session.

“This year will be his first real budget, in what maybe is his first real session. I’ll be interested to see what comes out,” said Delegate Craig J. Zucker, Montgomery County Democrat.

With regard to the presidential candidates, the Gonzales poll found that 40 percent of Maryland Democrats would vote for front-runner Hillary Clinton, 27 percent for Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders and 5 percent for Mr. O’Malley, a former two-term governor and mayor of Baltimore. Twenty-eight percent were undecided.

Mr. Gonzales said that too much shouldn’t be read into Mr. O’Malley’s poor showing in his home state.

“We’re talking about a process where Clinton and Sanders are sucking up all of the oxygen, and there isn’t much left, even in his own state,” the pollster said. “People want to jump all over it as a poor showing, and it’s not good, but I don’t think it’s that people are that fed up with O’Malley.”

Meanwhile, 32 percent of Maryland Republicans said they would vote for front-runner Donald Trump, 15 percent for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, 14 percent for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, 9 percent for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 8 percent for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and 4 percent for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The race to replace U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski also is heating up, with Democratic Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna F. Edwards neck and neck in the polls. Mr. Van Hollen leads, with 38 percent of voters saying they would vote for him and 36 percent saying they would vote for Ms. Edwards.

The survey of 819 registered voters was conducted Jan. 11-16 using both landlines and cellphones. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.5 percentage points, with a 95 percent confidence interval.

• Anjali Shastry can be reached at ashastry@washingtontimes.com.

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