Republican Larry Hogan could win this year's governor's race, but it's going to take more than he's shown voters so far in this campaign. That's the message of today's Sun Poll, which shows him trailing Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown by seven percentage points with just over three weeks to go before election day.
The Sun's results are in line with two other recent polls, one conducted by the Washington Post, which showed Mr. Brown with a nine-point lead, and one paid for by a group that is supporting Mr. Hogan but conducted by the well respected, non-partisan Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies, which found Mr. Brown with a four-point lead. The margins of error for all three surveys are overlapping, so they suggest a lead for the Democrat that's not quite as comfortable as one might expect based on his greater name recognition, his party's 2-1 voter registration advantage and his substantially better funded campaign.
Perhaps the best thing Mr. Hogan has going for him is that Maryland voters, by a 48-44 margin, think the state is on the wrong track. That is no doubt weighing on Mr. Brown, who has been a partner in Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration and who has shied away from obvious moves to distance himself from his boss during the campaign. And at least so far, the barrage of negative television ads from Mr. Brown and his allies don't appear to have disqualified Mr. Hogan in the minds of voters. Among those who have seen the campaigns ads, the vast majority — 75 percent — say the commercials have not made them more likely to vote for either of the candidates. Among those who have been swayed, Mr. Hogan is winning by a 14-9 margin. His support is also firmer, with just 13 percent of those who favor him saying they might change their minds, compared to 25 percent for Mr. Brown.
All that means this race is relatively close, but close doesn't count. There are some ominous signs in this survey for Mr. Hogan as well. The Republican has made his campaign almost exclusively about the need to cut spending and taxes to improve Maryland's business climate, but when voters were asked whether they share that view or Mr. Brown's assertion that taxes provide the means to invest in key priorities like education, public safety and the environment, they were essentially evenly split. Moreover, 26 percent of voters said taxes would determine their votes, but 67 percent said other issues are more important. Mr. Hogan's almost exclusive focus on pocketbook issues has been a good strategy so far, but it looks like it won't be enough for him to win.
By this point in the 2002 race in which Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend — surely a model Mr. Hogan would wish to emulate — he had pulled even or ahead of her in the polls. Moreover, Mr. Ehrlich, raising money at a torrid pace at this point in the campaign, had more cash on hand for the closing weeks of the campaign than did his rival. Because of Mr. Hogan's laudable but limiting decision to accept public campaign financing, that will not be the case this time. In all likelihood, he will be outspent 2-1, and so far, Mr. Brown is enjoying the advantage in outside money as well, including massive ad buys from the Democratic Governor's Association.
Moreover, Mr. Brown can expect to rely on a better financed, better organized get-out-the-vote operation from his campaign, the Democratic Party and organized labor. That could prove crucial, particularly in regard to turning out votes in the African-American community. The Sun's poll found that African-American voters support Mr. Brown (who would be the state's first African-American governor) over Mr. Hogan by a margin of 88-6, notwithstanding Mr. Hogan's efforts to reach out to that community.
Mr. Brown has not sealed the deal with Maryland voters, and Mr. Hogan has a chance. But that window of opportunity will soon close if he doesn't do more to shake up this race.