Democrat Anthony G. Brown holds a modest lead over Republican Larry Hogan in Maryland's race for governor, but many voters have not firmly made up their minds and the outcome is far from certain, according to a new poll conducted for The Baltimore Sun.
The poll by OpinionWorks of Annapolis found Brown leading Hogan 49 percent to 42 percent.
Though Brown has a 7-point lead, the poll found his backers are less solid in their conviction than Hogan supporters. And many in Brown's camp are younger voters, a bloc that historically is less likely to vote.
"Hogan has a much more engaged, committed base of support right now," said OpinionWorks President Steve Raabe.
"This is not by any stretch a locked-up race," Raabe said. "You can still see Brown winning comfortably. But you also can see Hogan winning."
The poll of 800 likely voters, conducted Oct. 4 to Oct. 8, has a 3.5 percentage-point margin of error.
In a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-1, Brown has a built-in advantage. The challenge for Brown is to motivate his supporters to cast a ballot in the Nov. 4 election, Raabe said.
"It's very clear that for him, this is a turnout game," he said.
In Brown's home county of Prince George's, he is favored by a commanding 84 percent of voters, including Democrat Joseph Webb, a high school English teacher.
Webb told a reporter he sees Brown as "a better bet" for the state and plans to vote for him. And he said most people he knows also like Brown — but he's not sure whether they feel strongly enough to go to the polls.
"The question is whether or not these people are going to get out and vote," said Webb, 70.
Brown also leads in Baltimore, largely thanks to voters such as Colette Miller, a 55-year-old supervisor at a distribution center.
The West Baltimore resident said she met Brown when he visited her church. "He gave a good speech," she said. She said she likes Brown's policies, especially his pledge not to raise taxes.
That Brown would be Maryland's first African-American governor has only slightly influenced her decision, said Miller, who is African-American. She doesn't have a high opinion of Hogan and does not accept his arguments that the O'Malley-Brown administration's policies have hurt Maryland's economy.
"Martin O'Malley did not get this economy screwed up," she said.
While Miller said she has made her decision, a quarter of Brown's supporters said they could change their minds. Only 13 percent of Hogan's voters say the same.
"The jury is still out on exactly what I think of Brown," said Latasha Vanzie, a Democrat and small-business owner from Owings Mills who is leaning toward Brown. "I'm not very impressed with him so far, but he's our only option on the Democratic side."
Vanzie, 39, said she met Brown at a fundraiser for health care-related businesses. While she really likes and respects his military background, she said, she was disappointed at his answer to her question about changing the way the state budget is built.
"There's no way I would stay home" on Election Day, Vanzie said. "But my mind still hasn't been completely made up."
Hogan's prospects of catching Brown are enhanced by the rock-solid support of Republicans, which is especially strong in GOP-dominated rural counties.
"Larry Hogan — I love him," said Kurt Schneeman, a carpenter from Centreville in Queen Anne's County. The 63-year-old Republican sees Brown as "just a repeat" of Gov. Martin O'Malley, whom Schneeman considers no friend of rural Maryland.
"O'Malley seems to be completely for the city," Schneeman said. "They're not paying attention to anyone else."
Hogan has been able to secure the support of a bigger share of his party base than Brown has. Among Republicans, 85 percent back Hogan, while 71 percent of Democrats favor Brown.
And Hogan has a 10-point lead among independents and third-party voters, 49 percent to 39 percent. That bloc makes up almost a fifth of Maryland's 3.7 million registered voters.
Richard Everson of Mechanicsville in St. Mary's County is among the independents who agree with Hogan's contention that high taxes are driving people out of Maryland.
"A lot of my friends here that I've known for years are moving out," the 64-year-old retired paperhanger said. "If I had the money to do it, I would move because of taxes."
Support for the candidates breaks strongly along racial and generational lines. White voters support Hogan by a 20-point margin, 56 percent to 36 percent. Brown has the vast majority of African-American voters, garnering 88 percent to Hogan's 6 percent.
The poll found Hogan has a double-digit lead among voters 65 and older, while Brown enjoys an equally large lead among those under 50.
Voters age 50 to 64 are divided.
Brown's smaller-than-expected support among Democrats so far is partly due to the drift of voters over 50.
James Gatto, a retired planner and economic development official, should be an easy catch for a Democratic candidate. Gatto, 60, of Chestertown in Kent County, is the son of a union president and voted for O'Malley in the last two elections.
But this year he's leaning toward Hogan because he doesn't see leadership qualities in Brown and is responding to the Republican's economic message.
"I think we should begin to examine our approach and look for ways to stimulate the state's economy," Gatto said.
He said he supported progressive favorite Heather R. Mizeur in the Democratic primary. "I did not expect to be leaning toward the Republican candidate," he said.
Montgomery County voter Diane Brasile, 70, is a Democrat who occasionally votes for Republicans, but she said won't take a second look at Hogan.
"I don't know a lot about [Brown], but I do know a lot about Hogan. And I don't like what I know," Brasile said. "I remember him when he ran for office years ago. I wasn't impressed then, and I'm definitely not any more impressed now."
Voters were divided over whether Maryland is headed in the right direction, a division aligned with their preference for a candidate.
Forty-eight percent of those surveyed think the state is on the wrong track, while 44 percent say it's headed in the right direction.
Brown has pitched himself to voters as the candidate best able to build on O'Malley's record. He has the support of 80 percent of voters satisfied with the state's direction.
Hogan has attracted the other camp. Ninety-three percent of voters who think the state is on the wrong track sided with Hogan and his message that the state needs change and lower taxes.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Despite the barrage of often-negative television ads in the campaign, most voters — 75 percent — say the ads haven't made them any more likely to support one man or the other.
Democrat Rob Smith of Annapolis is among voters disappointed with the tone of the campaign and the lack of information he wants.
"If all you're looking at is TV, you don't know anything about these guys. You don't know what they stand for," said Smith, 64. "At the moment, no one has given me any reason to vote for him."
About this poll
The poll was conducted for The Baltimore Sun by OpinionWorks of Annapolis. It is based on interviews with 800 likely Maryland voters conducted by telephone, both land-line and cellular, from Oct. 4 to Oct. 8. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points. Names were drawn from voter files provided by the Maryland State Board of Elections. Voters were screened to ensure that they plan to vote in the Nov. 4 election.