Poll finds Clinton, Van Hollen with leads in Maryland

Poll: Clinton leading Trump 54 percent to 25 percent in Md.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is deeply unpopular in Maryland and could be acting as a weight on the GOP candidate for the state's open U.S. Senate seat, according to a statewide poll to be released Tuesday.

Trump, who is running only slightly behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in national polls, is getting crushed in blue Maryland. The businessman is down 29 points in the state, the poll finds, and is losing every demographic: men, women, whites, blacks, young voters and old.

The numbers in the contest to replace Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski are nearly identical. Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County is leading Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga of Baltimore County 2-1.

The poll was conducted by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks, which shared its findings with The Baltimore Sun in advance of their release Tuesday.

"Trump has a very low ceiling in Maryland," said Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks. "A lot of people are going to have to change their minds in a very fundamental way for him to even come close."

The results come just after Labor Day, the unofficial start of the general election season.

Reflecting national trends, they show Trump has support from just 3 percent of Maryland's African-American voters. He is losing whites by 10 points, and is trailing among independent voters by 25 points.

Trump's controversial campaign is bleeding into other races across the nation, giving Democrats hope that they can pick up House and Senate seats in November despite a nominee who has her own significant issues.

In Maryland, Trump's impact appears to be working against Szeliga, who already faced an uphill fight in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-1.

Szeliga, the state House Republican whip, has said she supports the GOP nominee but has been critical of some of his remarks. Van Hollen has tried to tie her to Trump in virtually every public statement.

Szeliga, Raabe said, "is likely to get punished to some degree by virtue of being a Republican candidate this year."

The poll identifies one bright spot for Maryland Republicans: The popularity of Gov. Larry Hogan continues to soar. Seventy-one percent of registered voters in the state — including 63 percent of Democrats and 88 percent of Republicans — approve of the job he is doing.

Hogan's support has grown by eight points since a Baltimore Sun/University of Baltimore survey in November, and it eclipses the ratings his predecessor, Democrat Martin O'Malley, received during his eight years in office.

"It's not a honeymoon, and it's not sympathy because of cancer," said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College. "These are sustained numbers."

Hogan was elected in 2014 and battled non-Hodgkin's lymphoma last year.

Republicans are already gearing up to defend Hogan when he comes up for re-election in 2018, and several Democrats have started jockeying to challenge him. The race will have far-reaching consequences: The next governor will have a hand in redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries in 2021.

Hogan's only potential soft spot is in the heavily Democratic Washington suburbs. Twenty-eight percent of respondents in Montgomery County and 24 percent of those in Prince George's County said they are not sure about Hogan's performance.

His approval rating in Baltimore— a bastion of Democratic politics — is 72 percent.

OpinionWorks interviewed 754 likely voters in Maryland about the presidential and Senate contests. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

OpinionWorks has surveyed voters for The Baltimore Sun in the past, but conducted this poll independently.

On the surface, the results offer few surprises about the election. Maryland hasn't backed a Republican presidential candidate since George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in 1988, and there are no signs either candidate will spend resources in the state.

Van Hollen, meanwhile, has long been considered the favorite to win the Senate seat.

But the survey undercuts a number of narratives that have cropped up in Maryland since the April 26 primary election.

Some Trump supporters have grown increasingly vocal in their criticism of Hogan, suggesting the cold shoulder he has given to the GOP nominee could hurt his own re-election chances in Maryland in 2018.

There is no evidence of that in the poll, which finds the governor is exceedingly popular with the state's Republicans.

Hogan said in June he would not support Trump. He declined to attend the Republican National Convention, at which Trump was formally nominated earlier this summer.

But there's also no sign Hogan's popularity is doing much to help down-ballot Republicans such as Szeliga. The numbers offer little indication that Maryland is trending more purple after Hogan managed to pull off an upset win over Democrat Anthony Brown in 2014.

Nearly one in five likely voters are undecided in the Senate race, according to the poll. If every one of them chose Szeliga, the poll finds, she would still lose by 10 points.

Van Hollen, who won a closely watched primary against Rep. Donna F. Edwards this year, is leading among independent voters, whites, blacks, men, women and in every geographic area of the state except Western Maryland, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

The poll finds Van Hollen down by only four points in Western Maryland, a Republican stronghold.

Clinton, similarly, has strong support in the greater Baltimore region, as well as the Democratic territory of Baltimore and the Washington suburbs.

Among Clinton supporters, 82 percent said they would "never vote for Trump." Among Trump supporters, by contrast, 69 percent said they would "never vote for Clinton."

"In 2014 there was enormous enthusiasm among Republicans that drove turnout," Raabe said. "This time Democrats are highly motivated and excited, and Republicans are feeling a little less so."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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