Republican Bill Brock has spent nearly $1.8 million of his own money in his race for the U.S. Senate, but poll results released yesterday show that he still trails his opponent, incumbent Democrat Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, by a wide margin.
The poll, conducted by Mason- Dixon Political Media Research for The Sun and other news organizations, shows Mr. Sarbanes leading Mr. Brock, 56 percent to 36 percent, with 8 percent undecided.
Mason-Dixon surveyed 832 regular voters for the poll on Wednesday and Thursday. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Mr. Brock has narrowed the incumbent's lead by 5 points since a poll in mid-October, when Mr. Sarbanes was ahead 57 percent to percent. With Tuesday's election looming, Mr. Brock looked on the bright side yesterday as he pumped hands in his home base of Annapolis. "Seems like we're making progress," he said.
Political observers were less optimistic.
"Brock has had some trouble getting his message out," said Jim Gimpel, an assistant political science professor at the University of Maryland College Park. "It's kind of a shame. Brock is a good candidate and has a very good record, and yet he's been unable to put Paul Sarbanes on the defensive."
In a state where Democrats hold a 2 to 1 advantage in voter registration, Mr. Brock must bring in disaffected Democrats if he is to win. His campaign has been targeting younger, potential swing voters.
But informal interviews Thursday with 30 potential voters in Rockville and Gaithersburg suggested that Mr. Brock is having trouble getting through. Only two of 20 Democrats interviewed said they would cross party lines for him, and most could not say what his message was.
Conversely, most interviewed said they thought Mr. Sarbanes seemed like a good guy who had done a good job, although hardly anyone could cite a specific accomplishment.
A group of seven employees from a Gaithersburg development company were asked during their lunch break what Mr. Sarbanes had done. They paused and then laughed at their inability to answer. All of them -- three Democrats, three Republicans and an independent -- said they would vote for him anyway.
"I think he's probably done an adequate job," said Bob Buczkowski, 30, of Westminster.
While voters seemed to have generally good opinions of Senator Sarbanes, it was clear that his attack ads against Mr. Brock had influenced their views of the challenger.
"I got the impression that Bill Brock is more or less an interloper," said Karen Manners, 48, of Walkersville.
Mr. Brock, a former Tennessee congressman and senator, says he has lived in Maryland full time only since 1990. Mr. Sarbanes, who grew up in Salisbury, has attacked him in television advertisements that imply that the Republican is a carpetbagger who moved to the state to seek public office.
Despite his standing in the polls, Mr. Brock continues to campaign gamely. He began yesterday at 7:35 a.m., working the breakfast crowd at the Double T Diner in Pasadena. Republicans and some Reagan Democrats greeted him as "Bill," and urged him on while criticizing Mr. Sarbanes for voting for taxes and voting often with President Clinton. But pieces of Mr. Sarbanes' negative advertisements bubbled to the surface.
"Are you the one from Tennessee?" asked a Bowie Democrat who has seen the Sarbanes ads and said he plans to vote for the incumbent.
-! "Used to be," said Mr. Brock.