ElectionsBob, Catonsville: Kristen Cox helps soften [Gov. Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.]'s image, but does she have the experience to be lieutenant governor?
Josh Friedman, Cockeysville: How can The Sun title a poll "Governor Running Stronger" when only 38 percent say they'll vote for him? That's a dismal number for any incumbent with his name recognition.
Nitkin: The most recent polling for The Sun -- conducted July 6-10 -- showed Mayor Martin O'Malley leading Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. 46 percent to 38 percent among likely voters, a gap of 8 percentage points. In The Sun's previous poll, in November 2005, the mayor led the governor 48 percent to 33 percent, a gap of 15 percentage points. That trend line -- Ehrlich closing the gap on O'Malley -- is significant, and worthy of a "Governor Running Stronger" headline.
The governor has a 55 percent job approval rating, a rating that has stayed relatively consistent throughout his term. That's a very good number for an incumbent.
The poll shows he is running better now than last year. The governor's approval rating is high, and our pollster, Keith Haller of Potomac Inc., predicts a very close outcome in November.
John, Pikesville: Some MTA buses are displaying advertisements that prominently feature Governor Ehrlich, ostensibly to promote home ownership, yet appear to be blatant political ads paid for by the taxpayers. Aren't these ads violating some kind of law? Why haven't they been removed?
Nitkin: It's a common political practice for incumbent elected officials to step up their visibility in election years -- frequently at taxpayer expense. There's a large gray area between what is legitimate promotion of government programs and what is purely political self-promotion. Democrats in the General Assembly contend that Ehrlich has frequently crossed the line; that's why this year, they passed a law (as part of the state budget) that prohibits the spending of state money on television, newspaper and magazine advertisements (such as the governor's tourism commercials) between July and Jan. 10.
I'm not sure if the bus advertisements you cite are expressly prohibited under the law. The Ehrlich administration has criticized the law, saying that past Democratic administrations have spent similarly on advertising and promotions in election years. They say they are being unfairly singled out. Democratic lawmakers counter that Ehrlich has taken the practice to a new level.
Steve Goodman, Ridgely: I heard a commentator on PBS saying that Martin O'Malley had "a remarkable record on education and a remarkable record on crime." How can anyone, even a blind partisan, say such a thing with a straight face? When O'Malley has to campaign statewide, how is he going to hide his dismal record as an administrator in his current position?
Nitkin: Crime and school statistics remain a weak spot for O'Malley. The mayor pledged when elected to bring murders to under 175 a year, and the city has not hit the mark. Many city schools are dangerous and perform poorly on test scores. The mayor contends that the city is safer and schools are better under his leadership. His critics -- including Ehrlich -- say that progress elsewhere in the state has far eclipsed that made in Baltimore. The governor in recent days seems very willing to talk about the mayor's record in Baltimore, and O'Malley will have to address the topic during the campaign and in debates.
Cate, Baltimore: Does anyone have a chance of unseating our embarrassment of a comptroller? Doesn't [William Donald] Schaefer have friends [or] family members who can explain it's time to retire before he loses any chance of a positive collective memory on the part of state residents? I am so over our state being a laughingstock across the country.
Nitkin: The Sun poll showed Schaefer leads Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens 31 percent to 22 percent, with Montgomery County Del. Peter Franchot at 11 percent in a three-way Democratic primary. Thirty six percent of primary voters are undecided. These results indicate to Keith Haller, our pollster, that Schaefer, 84, is vulnerable in this year's election. Schaefer does have many close friends who have probably advised him of his risky prospects this year.
Edward Sills, Baltimore: Have you done polling in the 3rd Congressional District race?
Nitkin: I know many people would like to see poll numbers in this very competitive race to replace Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who is running for U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, we don't have any. Sorry.