Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley is posting a slight lead over Republican former Gov Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in a poll out this morning.

The OpinionWorks survey, conducted for Center Maryland, shows O'Malley garnering 47 percent of the vote and Ehrlich 41, with about a 4 percentage-point margin of error. The pollster also asked about the Republican primary -- the first time the question was posed to voters and the results made public.


Brian Murphy, a Montgomery County investor and political newcomer who landed Sarah Palin's endorsement, would win 13 percent of the vote to Ehrlich's commanding 75 percent. The primary poll questions, the results of which were released yesterday, had an 8.5-percentage-point margin of error.

The survey probed the "Palin effect." In blue Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1 and Republicans are arguably more centrist than in other states, Palin's backing seems to do Murphy more harm than good, according to the poll results.

Of likely Republican primary voters, 11 percent said Palin's endorsement made it more likely to vote for Murphy, and 15 percent said it made them less likely to support Murphy. Two-thirds said it made no difference.

"If you're a Republican in Maryland, the more likely you are to vote in the primary, the less likely you are to like Palin's endorsement," Steve Raabe, OpinionWorks president and founder, told Center Maryland. "She cuts against the hard-core primary voter."

The telephone survey was conducted Aug. 13-18. It included 600 "likely" general election voters statewide and, for the Murphy-Ehrlich question, 132 "likely Republican voters who said they are certain or probable to vote in the September Republican primary election."

Other results:

* "Certain" voters favor O'Malley 45 percent to Ehrlich's 41 percent. "Likely" voters prefer O'Malley 48 percent to 40 percent.

* 49 percent of those polled approve of the job O'Malley is doing, compared to 39 percent who disapprove.

* 40 percent say Maryland is headed in the right direction, and 42 percent say it's on the wrong track.

* 43 percent of likely voters say they'd vote for more Democrats in state and local fall elections, and 31 percent say Republicans.

Annapolis-based OpinionWorks has polled for media companies, including The Baltimore Sun. Center Maryland, which paid for this poll, bills itself as a "nonprofit media outlet ... with straight-down-the-middle reporting."

Many of its six founders, however, have Democratic ties and donate to O'Malley and other Democrats. Three of the founders are employed by a public relations shop launched two years ago by Steve Kearney, O'Malley's former communications director, and Damian O'Doherty, a former aide to Democratic Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

More Center Maryland/OpinionWorks poll results -- focusing on the economy -- will be released tomorrow. The entire poll has not been published, but details about the questions can be found on Center Maryland's web site summaries (Murphy-Ehrlich and Ehrlich-O'Malley)

This marks OpinionWorks' first Maryland gubernatorial poll this year. A Rassmussen Reports poll out last week, showed O'Malley and Ehrlich essentially tied. Earlier this summer, The Sun examined the roll of partisan pollsters in the governor's race.