Reps. Donna Edwards (right) and Chris Van Hollen.
Reps. Donna Edwards (right) and Chris Van Hollen. (Baltimore Sun)

The Democratic primary for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's seat is a dead heat, with nearly a quarter of voters still undecided, a Goucher Poll released Wednesday has found.

The poll is the second in as many months to find support for Reps. Donna F. Edwards of Prince George's County and Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County to be within the margin of error -- underscoring that the Maryland primary is among the most competitive in the nation.

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Thirty-seven percent of likely Maryland Democratic voters said they would support Van Hollen, while 39 percent chose Edwards. Twenty-three percent of voters were undecided.

A close race at this point in the cycle may benefit Van Hollen, who has a better than 10-to-1 cash advantage over Edwards and is therefore better positioned to blanket television airwaves with advertising in the final weeks of the campaign.

That advantage could be offset, however, if the Washington-based Emily's List -- and its associated super PAC, which is backing Edwards and other Democratic women running for office this year -- puts more money into the race. Emily's List has already spent $1 million to support Edwards, mostly on Baltimore media.

"A dead heat with nearly a quarter of the voters still undecided makes for an exciting race," said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College. "The test for Edwards will be her ability to translate her current electoral support to campaign-sustaining donations. Van Hollen has the money...for a strong push to the finish."

Polling has varied widely in the race. A Washington Post poll in October showed Edwards with a 10-point advantage. A Baltimore Sun-University of Baltimore poll in November put Van Hollen ahead 14 points. The Goucher Poll's results are similar to those found by Gonzales Research & Marketing in January. Gonzales had Van Hollen up by two points, also within the margin of error.

One factor potentially driving the differences -- aside from actual movement in the race, which is also possible -- are assumptions about African American turnout, which will be particularly difficult to predict in this presidential election year.

About 39 percent of respondents in The Sun poll were African American. Black voters made up 42 percent and 45 percent of the Gonzales and Goucher samples, respectively. Edwards frequently touts the historic significance of her candidacy: She would be the first African American to represent Maryland in the chamber if elected.

"Marylanders want a senator who will stand up to the Washington special interests regardless of which direction the political winds are blowing," Edwards spokesman Benjamin Gerdes said in a statement. "Donna's taken the lead because she's the only progressive champion who will expand Social Security, end gun violence, and tackle the tough issues that Washington politicians refuse to discuss."

The Van Hollen camp, not surprisingly, offered a different view.

"We know that Chris has the overwhelming support of Maryland's community leaders and a grassroots army standing with him," Van Hollen spokeswoman Bridgett Frey said in a statement. "Unlike his opponent, Chris's support comes from Marylanders and not an out-of-state super PAC --  and we are confident that on election day, Marylanders will not allow the election to be hijacked by outside money and special interests."

In the presidential Democratic primary, the Goucher poll found Clinton with a solid majority in Maryland over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Highlighting the support Clinton has in more diverse states, Clinton had the backing of 58 percent of Maryland Democratic voters compared with 28 percent for Sanders. Twelve percent were undecided.

Support for both candidates has grown since Goucher last polled the race in October. With more voters presumably paying attention -- and fewer candidates in the field -- Clinton's support grew 15 points since last fall, while Sanders' increased by 11 points.

Maryland's primary is April 26.

Goucher did not poll the Republican candidates for Senate or president.

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The poll's sample size of registered Democrats was 307, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percentage points.

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