The first poll of the summer city election campaign made it clear that a large number of voters are having a hard time making a choice in the contest for mayor.
bTC In the Mason-Dixon poll, conducted for The Sun and WMAR-TV, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke enjoys a strong 15 percentage point lead over City Council President Mary Pat Clarke. But 20 percent of respondents said they were undecided. Combined with the 5 percent margin of error in the poll and the eight weeks before election day, it means the contest is far from over.
Ms. Clarke is definitely within striking distance, but the poll indicates she has yet to convince enough voters she is mayoral material. The poll also corroborates fears that this election could become racially divisive. Only 16 percent of whites said they would vote for the re-election of the city's first elected black mayor. And only 13 percent of blacks said they would vote for Ms. Clarke. That must be a disappointment for her. Ms. Clarke has been cast as one of the most popular white politicians among the city's black population. If blacks like her so well, their reluctance to voice their support may in part indicate a lack of confidence in her abilities to run the city.
Mr. Schmoke must similarly be concerned that 28 percent of the black poll respondents said they either favored Ms. Clarke or were undecided (15 percent). The 72 percent of blacks who said they will vote for him means Mr. Schmoke's black support is now weaker against a white candidate than it was against a black opponent, Clarence "Du" Burns, in the 1991 election (78 percent). The mayor has consistently denied his re-election campaign is racially oriented, but these numbers certainly suggest Mr. Schmoke can't expect blacks to vote for him just because of the place he holds in African American history.
The poll indicates that neither candidate can take anything for granted. Both of them will try to reach out to undecided black voters, who may be the key to this contest. In doing so, they should consider the poll's finding that there is no racial divide on Baltimore's No. 1 problem: Sixty-eight percent of blacks and 62 percent of whites said drugs and crime together rank as their biggest concern. Education is a distant second, with 13 percent of blacks and 10 percent of whites saying it is more important. The voters' choice could be the candidate who comes up with the best ways to deal with these exceedingly vexing problems.