What does $200,000 worth of negative political advertisements buy these days? In Maryland's U.S. Senate race, apparently nothing.
Republican Bill Brock has spent at least that much in the past three weeks portraying Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes as a tax-raiser who is soft on crime. But the results from a new statewide poll show that Mr. Brock has failed to narrow the incumbent's solid lead.
The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research for The Sun and other news organizations, showed Mr. Sarbanes leading with 57 percent of the vote to Mr. Brock's 32 percent.
Mr. Sarbanes held virtually the same lead in a Mason-Dixon poll late last month, which showed him ahead of Mr. Brock 56 percent to 33 percent. The margin of error in both polls was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
With less than three weeks to go before the Nov. 8 election, political analysts saw the new results as continued bad news for the challenger.
"Sarbanes has a comfortable lead," said Herbert C. Smith, a professor of political science at Western Maryland College. "When you're 25 points behind, it's a reach."
The Brock campaign disputed the poll numbers, saying that it had conducted a more recent survey of its own that showed a much closer race. Asked to provide the results, though, campaign director Howard A. Denis declined, saying he was not authorized to do so. "From our standpoint, on our poll, we're exactly where we want to be," he said.
Mr. Denis also noted that other polls have been wrong this year. He cited the Republican gubernatorial primary in which Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey appeared to trail U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley by 13 points in the final week and then went on to trounce her by 14 points.
According to this week's poll results, Mr. Sarbanes leads Mr. Brock in all sections of the state except Western Maryland. The poll surveyed 826 regular voters last Thursday through Saturday.
Del Ali, vice president of Mason-Dixon, said Mr. Sarbanes has successfully fended off Mr. Brock by responding to the challenger's negative ads with hard-hitting ones of his own. After Mr. Brock criticized him in a television spot for voting to increase taxes, Mr. Sarbanes fired back with an ad essentially portraying the challenger as a carpetbagger. Mr. Brock, who served as a U.S. senator and representative from Tennessee, says he has lived in Maryland full time only since 1990.
"Nativism is a very strong value in American politics," said Mr. Smith. "The carpetbagger issue, all things being equal, is a devastator."
Mr. Smith added that only two out-of-state candidates in recent memory have overcome carpetbagging charges to win Senate races in the eastern part of the country -- Robert F. Kennedy in New York in 1964 and John D. "Jay" Rockefeller in West Virginia in 1984.
Mr. Ali suggested that the candidates' physical appearance may also be a factor. Although both men are in their early 60s, Mr. Sarbanes appears vibrant, while Mr. Brock looks a decade older, Mr. Ali said.
Mr. Brock "looks like the incumbent," he said. "He looks like the one trying to hold on to his job."