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Republican Gains in Md. Gov. Race

July 29, 2002

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) _ The governor’s race has tightened dramatically, boosting Republican hopes that they can beat Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and claim the governor’s office for the first time since 1966.

Two recent polls _ both of which had Townsend leading GOP Rep. Robert Ehrlich by 15 points in January _ show the race is now almost even. Both hope to succeed Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat barred by state law from seeking a third term in November.

Townsend, 51, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and niece of President Kennedy, is trying to become the first member of her politically prominent family to be elected governor. Like Ehrlich, she has no significant opposition in the September primary.

Republicans believe Ehrlich, an affable 44-year-old, four-term congressman, offers their best chance to overcome the state’s Democratic voter registration edge of almost 2-to-1.

Ehrlich is running as a moderate and is making a major appeal to black voters, who make up about a quarter of the Maryland electorate and usually give Democratic statewide candidates about 90 percent of their vote.

He chose Michael Steele, the only black Republican state party chairman in the country, as his running mate. Townsend, in contrast, chose Charles Larson, a retired admiral and lifelong Republican who became a Democrat to join the ticket.

Ehrlich is ``making a very concerted effort to undercut the traditional Democratic base in the African-American community,″ said Herb Smith, professor of political science at McDaniel College in Westminster. ``This is a wide-open contest.″

A poll of 1,200 likely voters published last week by The Sun shows Townsend leading Ehrlich 47 percent to 44 percent, with 10 percent undecided. The margin of error was 2.8 percentage points.

The same poll found that Townsend’s support among blacks has dropped from 90 percent to 77 percent over the last six months.

Democrats say that if Townsend’s support has slipped among black voters, it’s only temporary.

Joan Carter Conway, a black Democratic state senator from Baltimore, said once black voters take a closer look at Ehrlich’s voting record in Congress, ``there won’t be any slippage. There will be a tremendous gain among African-American voters (for Townsend).″

Still, analysts say Townsend is hurt by worries about the state and national economies, a proclivity to fumble for words and her close ties to Glendening, who has never been very popular.

Carol Arscott of the Gonzales/Arscott political consulting firm said President Bush’s popularity is also helping Ehrlich.

``It’s just remarkably good fortune to be running _ especially in a state where the odds are stacked against Republicans _ when the Republican president is doing well at the polls,″ she said.

The last Republican elected Maryland governor was Spiro T. Agnew in 1966.

Arscott and Smith said the Kennedy name may be a factor in Townsend’s unfavorable ratings _ 29 percent in a Gonzales/Arscott poll taken in early July and 36 percent in the Sun poll, which was conducted in mid-July by Potomac Inc.

The name ``creates a kind of visceral reaction among Republicans and maybe a small number of Democrats,″ Arscott said.

Townsend will be counting on voters such as Bradley Scott, a black voter in Baltimore who is supporting the Democratic ticket.

``She talks a good game, and her family has a good background,″ he said.

But Eric Green, another black voter from Baltimore, said he is willing to give Ehrlich’s ticket a look.

``I’d like to hear a little more of what they’re going to do in the community,″ he said. Democrats, he added, haven’t ``addressed issues with the inner city.″

Analysts said Townsend is expected to raise a lot more money than Ehrlich and will mount an extensive media campaign with the message that the GOP candidate is a conservative, not the moderate he says he is.

``I wouldn’t start planning for Ehrlich’s inauguration quite so quickly,″ said Eric Uslaner, political science professor at the University of Maryland.


On the Net:

Townsend: http://www.friendsofkathleen.com

Ehrlich: http://www.bobehrlich.com

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