Gray said Rawlings-Blake's challengers have yet to demonstrate that they could run the city as well as she has.

"The rest of them, they're just talking, as far as I'm concerned," he said. "It's always easy when you're on the outside looking in."

With the primary less than 21/2 weeks away, Rawlings-Blake's substantial fundraising advantage has enabled her to advertise heavily on television in recent days.

She raised $800,000 from mid-January to mid-August, and has garnered endorsements from Gov. Martin O'Malley, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and several prominent unions.

Pugh raised $345,000 in the same period, including $75,000 in the form of a two-week loan from Scott Donahoo, a former car dealer who flirted with a run for mayor earlier this year, that has come due. Rolley raised $267,000.

Even though the opinion poll showed Rawlings-Blake with a clear lead, Pugh or Rolley could still eke out a victory, Raabe said. According to the poll, slightly more than one-third of Rawlings-Blake's supporters said their backing could waiver, and 18 percent of likely primary voters remained undecided.

"There is a still a formula for a challenger to win this race," the pollster said. Rawlings-Blake "could stumble. Something could happen.

"This hurricane, depending on how it goes and how she handles it, is the perfect example of something that could untrack a campaign."

The Sun Poll

The Baltimore Sun commissioned a telephone survey of 742 likely Baltimore Democratic primary voters from Aug. 22-24. The Sun's pollster, OpinionWorks of Annapolis, used the Baltimore City Board of Elections database to identify registered voters with a history of voting in municipal primary elections and gathered survey results from those who ranked their likelihood of voting in the September primary "50-50" or higher. The Sun's sample was designed to approximate the racial, gender, geographic, and age breakdown of the city's Democratic primary voting population, based on turnout patterns averaged over the past three primary elections. The margin of error for questions that reflect the entire sample is 3.6 percentage points, which means that 95 times out of 100, the actual answer obtained by surveying every Baltimore City Democratic primary voter would be within 3.6 percentage points of the answer obtained by using the sample.

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