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First Click, Maryland -- In governor's race, watch out for spin on poll position

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Monday, May 10, 2010:

The Agenda

Aaron.jpgA new Washington Post poll released on Monday shows Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) with an 8 percentage point lead over former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R). But among those who say they are certain to vote in November, the race is a dead heat, with both candidates drawing 47 percent.

Despite how well-known the two major candidates are, nearly half also say they are undecided or could change their minds before Election Day.

It's the kind of early election-year result (just 26 percent say they have yet to tune in closely to the race) that either side can spin into good news.

o'malley-serious.JPGO'Malley, for example, may feel good about a 58 percent job-approval rating -- his highest in Washington Post polls since becoming governor, and that more voters say he understands their problems and can be trusted more than Ehrlich on education, the environment and crime.

For Ehrlich, who lost to O'Malley four years ago, 53 to 46 percent, the challenger may take comfort in the finding that O'Malley starts with less than half of all registered voters leaning his way.Md-OpeningDay-Ehrlich2.JPGFour years ago, O'Malley never polled below 50 percent. The poll also found the Republican has the edge in voter trust on the state budget and taxes, and when it comes to the top issue, the economy, 43 percent trust the former governor to do a better job, to 39 percent for the current one.

Given the room for each campaign to spin the poll results, we thought we'd take a shot at beating them to the punch. Watch out for these talking points next time the candidates steps in front of the mic:


• More Marylanders are on our side and believe in our vision for Maryland's future.
("Which one would you lean toward right now?" (49% O'Malley/41% Ehrlich). And "Which candidate do you trust to do a better job on each of these issues?" Public Education: 49% O'Malley/29% Ehrlich; Environment: 49% O'Malley/25% Ehrlich).

• Marylanders understand the tough decisions and cuts we have made to balance the state budget.
("Do you approve or disapprove of the way O'Malley is handling the issue of the state budget and taxes?" 46% Approve, 40% Disapprove, 14% No opinion).


• Marylanders know that Annapolis is broken and that the current leadership can't fix the state's problems.
("Do you think things in the state of Maryland are generally going in the right direction, or do you feel things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track?" (Right direction, 41%; Wrong track, 52 %; No opinion, 7%. And "How much would you say O'Malley has accomplished as governor?" A lot/fair amount, 46%; some/not much 48%; No opinion 6%).

• Maryland has to lower taxes to create new jobs and needs new leadership to deal with the state's economy and budget deficit.
("Which candidate do you trust to do a better job on each of these issues?" Taxes: 43% Ehrlich/37% O'Malley; State Economy: 43% Ehrlich/40% O'Malley; State budget deficit: 42% Ehrlich/37% O'Malley).

There is also one big talking points for George W. Owings, a former state delegate and veterans affairs secretary who is challenging O'Malley in the Democratic primary, and Brian Murphy, a Montgomery business investor, who is challenging Ehrlich in the Republican primary. "Are you satisfied with your choice of O'Malley or Ehrlich, or do you wish you had more choices?" Satisfied 49%, Wish had more 45%, No opinion 6%.

And though they may never be uttered publicly by either campaign, there are also talking points for fundraisers and strategists on either side:

O'Malley only needs a fraction of those who are leaning toward voting for him to turn out to the polls and actually do so. Considering he won four years ago with 942,000 votes, the campaign at this point has about $6 per vote to mobilize votes.

O'Malley may also want to ask the White House if President Obama would stump in Prince George's. Obama's approval rating remains at 62 percent in Maryland, high above his rating nationally. And voters -- largely Democrats who came out in 2008 for the president but are not yet sold on O'Malley. In Prince George's the majority-African American jurisdiction presents a sizable opportunity for the governor. Following the voter registration push for Obama, the county has 69,000 more Democratic voters -- and about 2,400 fewer Republicans -- than it did in 2006.

And when Ehrlich's fundraisers come calling? "Dead heat" is about all they may have to repeat to remind would-be contributors why he got into the race, and that there's a plausible scenario for him winning in the heavily Democratic state.

Above all else, however, hopefully both campaigns take one message from the Post poll: With nearly half of all voters saying they could still switch sides, the next five months matter. Maryland's gubernatorial contest also may turn out to be less of a referendum on health care and other hot-button national issues as it has been elsewhere. Stay tuned. We will poll again.

-- Aaron C. Davis

News You Should Know

Drop in crime might be a boost for O'Malley
md-crime-2010.gif"Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is scheduled to announce Monday that the state recorded fewer violent crimes last year than at any point since 1979 and that the overall number of crimes dipped to an all-time low since Maryland police began uniformly reporting them more than 35 years ago," writes The Post's Aaron C. Davis. "Maryland's improving public safety record stands out even amid a national phenomenon of falling crime rates, including a precipitous drop last year in the number of homicides across the greater Washington region. The good news comes at an opportune time for O'Malley: at the outset of his reelection campaign. Over the coming months, O'Malley (D), who won the governor's mansion in part on a reputation as Baltimore's tough-on-crime mayor, is expected to reclaim the mantle of crime fighter. But with crime rates falling fast nationwide, assessing how much credit O'Malley deserves for Maryland's record lows remains a tough task."

Ehrlich takes issue with O'Malley's delays on death penalty
"Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has repeatedly fallen short in his attempts to persuade lawmakers to abolish capital punishment. But as he nears the end of his term, O'Malley is close to achieving through delay and inertia what he could not change in the law. Three-and-a-half years after the state's highest court halted use of the death penalty on a technicality, O'Malley has yet to implement regulations required for executions to resume," writes The Post's John Wagner. "Although O'Malley says his administration is working diligently in that direction, advocates on both sides of the issue say they strongly doubt that any of Maryland's five condemned prisoners will be put to death before the governor stands for reelection this fall. With jobs and the economy dominating the political debate, there is little evidence that O'Malley's posture on the death penalty has hurt him politically to this point. But his leading opponent, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), said that he plans to make it an issue, accusing O'Malley and other death penalty opponents of "shenanigans" to avoid carrying out the law."

Teachers object to state's 'Race to the Top' proposal
Thumbnail image for Grasmick looks left.jpg"Maryland's largest teachers union said Friday that it has "serious concerns" with the state's draft application for the "Race to the Top" competition, putting a roadblock in the state's bid to win $250 million in federal grants," writes The Post's Michael Birnbaum. "The Maryland State Education Association sent a letter to State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick detailing objections to the proposal, which would base 50 percent of each teacher's evaluation on student progress, overhaul statewide exams and offer extra pay to qualified teachers and principals who work in low-performing schools. The union questions whether the proposal is within the bounds of the state's new education reform law. Union support is a factor in the competition."

State reaching minority business goal
"For the first time, Maryland is on track to meet its annual goal of awarding one-quarter of state contract dollars to minority- or female-owned businesses, Gov. Martin O'Malley said Friday," writes The Baltimore Sun's Julie Bykowicz. "O'Malley, who made the announcement at a state-sponsored minority business event in Towson, said the news was particularly meaningful because of the state's budget woes.


"We just had an interesting experience. We had an attack ad run against me on our show."
-- Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R) returning Saturday from a commercial break in his weekly WBAL radio show, after an O'Malley campaign ad titled "Bob Ehrlich's Fantasy Land" questioned Ehrlich's fiscal leadership.

From the poll...

"[O'Malley] made some promises he didn't fulfill and needs to account for that."
-- Al Joyner of Randallstown, a retired University of Maryland social worker who voted for the governor four years ago but is now noncommittal. Joyner blames the governor for not controlling rising electric bills -- a nuisance O'Malley campaigned heavily against in 2006.

"I don't know if it would be a vote for O'Malley as much as against Ehrlich ... I haven't firmly decided, but O'Malley seems to have managed reasonably well, given the circumstances."
-- Dennis Medlock of St. Michaels calls himself undecided but said he'd probably vote for O'Malley.


Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of the day's top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. Want First Click on the go? Sign up for our free e-mail edition, and get the news delivered to your inbox or mobile device.

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By Aaron C. Davis  |  May 10, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , Aaron C. Davis , First Click  
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Next: O'Malley boasts about Washington Post poll results


Regardless of who becomes the next Maryland Governor the State's budget will have to be radically trimmed to avoid a financial crisis. Although most of the press coverage focuses attention on the operating budget, the capital budget also needs immediate attention.

The operating budget is a patchwork quilt of programs that have grown over the past few decades and elevated the budget baseline to an unsustainable level. Minor tweeking and reductions in a few discrete programs will not solve the problem. We need to start from scratch and reconstruct every aspect of the operating budget. This will be a hurculean effort that will be difficult and painful. I suggest that a special Commission be created to tackle this significant undertaking.

The Commission members should be the Governor, Comptroller, Treasurer, and the majority and minority leadership of the State Senate and the House of Delegates. The Commission should establish the goals, funding levels and ground rules for the effort, assign staff to do the data collection and anlysis, and approve the final recommendations.

Next, the Commission should address the capital budget. We need to establish a realistic topline figure on how much debt service that Maryland can realistically fund. This topline amount must not be breached without a significant amount of public debate and consideration. If exceeding this topline amount is warranted it should either be approved by a super majority in both houses of the legislature, and signed into law by the Governor, or approved by a voter referendum.

In addition, all existing debt instruments should be reviewed to see if it is possible and economically attractive to retire some debt early. If debt can be repaid on financially attractive terms, such funds should be requested in the operating budget.

I we ignore the current budget crisis it will only be harder to resolve in the future. More draconian reductions will be required, and critical services will be more significantly degraded. We cannot kick the "budget can" down the road indefinately. We need to act now!

Posted by: whcampbell | May 10, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

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