Among Democrats who expressed a preference, Del. Jon Cardin of Baltimore County was ahead with 18 percent support. The other three candidates — state Sen. Brian E. Frosh and Del. C. William Frick, both of Montgomery County, and Del. Aisha Braveboy of Prince George's County — polled in single digits.
All four names are unfamiliar to many voters — even those who follow politics closely.
Robert Heaton, a 74-year-old retiree from Cockeysville, said he is one of the undecided 69 percent.
"I don't even know who is currently competing for attorney general," he said. The only candidate whose name was familiar to him was Cardin. Heaton said he would probably favor him because Cardin's from Baltimore County, but he wants to hear more about the other candidates.
It is unclear how much Cardin's lead stems from his own strengths and how much it reflects a well-known last name. U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a popular Democrat, is Delegate Cardin's uncle.
Matthew Merenbloom, a 30-year-old master's degree student from Catonsville, said his choice was based on his positive view of Ben Cardin. "The name sounded more familiar to me than the other choices," he said. Merenbloom said he could be won over by another candidate.
But Elizabeth Adams, 85, said family ties have nothing to do with her choice, and she's leaning toward backing Cardin. The Bel Air resident said she's been an active Democratic volunteer for decades — she said she knows pretty much any Harford County candidate on the ballot — but it's too soon to be making any hard-and-fast choices.
"It's too early to judge," she said.
Frosh, a veteran Montgomery County lawmaker, holds a commanding lead in fundraising and has gathered endorsements from many influential Democratic-leaning groups. As a Senate committee chairman, he has been at the forefront of the fight for such causes as same-sex marriage and gun control.
Wilbur Friedman, an active Democrat from Rockville, said he still has Ben Cardin's campaign signs in his garage, but his choice for attorney general is Frosh.
"He is a straight arrow," said Friedman, 82. "He has risen in the Senate, as he should. He's a bright guy. I don't see any reason to look further."
Frosh will need to convince more such voters; the state senator was the choice of just 6 percent in the Sun poll.
The poll, which has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, was conducted by OpinionWorks of Annapolis. Steve Raabe, the company's president, said Cardin's relative strength among voters who say they are certain to cast ballots — among whom he polled 20 percent — suggests that his support is based on more than just name recognition.
"He may be a legitimate front-runner," Raabe said. "He's still got a long way to go."
Braveboy, of Prince George's County, won the support of 4 percent of Democratic voters, and Frick got 3 percent. Neither was able to match Frosh's or Cardin's ability to raise money before last month's start of the General Assembly session brought a 90-day halt to fundraising by the four lawmakers.
As of early January, Frosh had $795,900 in the bank, compared with $374,000 for Cardin. Frick reported that he had $134,000, while Braveboy reported $20,000 in cash on hand.
Gansler, a Democrat who has held the office for two terms, is running for governor.
The Democratic primary is June 24. No Republicans have filed to run for attorney general, an office the GOP has not won in an election since 1918.