The latest state survey from Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies shows that Governor Martin O'Malley continues to lead former Governor Bob Ehrlich by a 48% to 39% margin in Maryland. That represents a 1 point drop for O'Malley and and 1 point increase for Ehrlich since the last poll in September. The 9 point lead should give O'Malley some cause for relief given recent election results in Virginia and New Jersey, but there are also danger signs for him in the poll. O'Malley enjoys the support of 73% of Democrats and only 39% of Independents - 11% of Democrats and 25% of Independents are undecided and incumbents tend not to do well among undecided voters. O'Malley should be concerned as well that his approval rating has taken another dip falling to 46%. O'Malley's approval rating has been below 50% since October of 2007 and incumbents rarely do better among voters come Election Day than thier approval rating at the time of the election. O'Malley only receives 39% of the white vote in the poll, he needs to get that number into the 40's to feel comfortable on Election Day.
Finally, although O'Malley leads Ehrlich it's important to remember that Ehrlich is not a declared candidate and has done no campaigning. Should Ehrlich launch a bid, those numbers could change quickly. The poll found that the economy is the top concern among Maryland voters and with O'Malley set to release his budget the economy is going to take center stage in the next few weeks. That provides an opportunity for O'Malley to attempt to assuage voter concerns but also an opening for Ehrlich to exploit those concerns. One potential area of trouble for O'Malley is that his proposed budget assumes that the state will receive $400 million in federal money for Medicaid. The problem is that the money was included in the House version of health reform and that bill is all but dead after the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts. It is likely that he'll need to make up much of that $400 million by the end of the session in April - will he do that via unpopular spending cuts or unpopular tax increases? While O'Malley will be busy making the tough budget calls, Ehrlich would enjoy the freedom that comes from being the challenger. In the end, the race may be O'Malley's to lose but with his approval rating below 50% and 13% of the electorate undecided victory is far from certain.
Click here for a related post on the implications for Maryland of the Massachusetts special election.
Todd Eberly, Assisitant Professor of Political Science