Gov. Martin O'Malley may have his eye on running for the White House, but a new Baltimore Sun poll suggests he could have a tough time winning the Democratic primary election in his own state.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outpolled O'Malley by nearly 10 to 1 among likely Maryland Democratic voters asked to name their top choice among four possible candidates to be the party's standard-bearer in the 2016 presidential election.
When asked for a favorite among Clinton, O'Malley, Vice President Joe Biden and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, 59 percent picked Clinton. Biden came in second, with 14 percent.
O'Malley, who's been openly exploring a presidential run for months, got picked by just 6 percent of the state's Democratic voters. He did only slightly better than Cuomo, who was the choice of 4 percent of those polled.
"I just don't think Martin O'Malley has the chops," said Dan Meenan, 53, a computer programmer from Baltimore County. "He's not going to wash nationally," he added.
Another favorite son, Dr. Benjamin Carson, proved to be the top pick among Maryland Republican voters asked to choose from a list of five possible presidential contenders. The other GOP prospects mentioned were former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
"Awesome" is what Marcia Lewandowski of Dundalk calls Carson, the renowned Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon who retired last year and took up political punditry.
"He just speaks the truth," Lewandowski, 59, said of Carson. "He's very wonderful in the way he talks about things."
With the presidential primary still two years away, the poll offers a snapshot of the support candidates would have if the vote were held today. The political landscape can change drastically.
Still, O'Malley — who was among the first governors to endorse Clinton in the 2008 primary — faces a difficult challenge at this early stage. With Clinton dominating the potential field, he and other potential candidates must raise money and introduce themselves to voters in her shadow.
Many political observers believe O'Malley is making the right early moves to preserve a spot in the race should Clinton ultimately decide not to run. He is traveling to early voting states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire, and has been building a fundraising network beyond the state's borders.
The poll, conducted by OpinionWorks of Annapolis, was based on telephone interviews with likely Democratic and Republican primary voters and has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points for questions about each party's primary.
The survey also asked voters of both parties statewide, as well as independents, for their assessment of the job performance of Gov.O'Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. It found:
•Maryland voters split almost evenly in rating O'Malley's performance as governor the past seven years, with 45 percent approving and 42 percent disapproving. The remainder either weren't sure or wouldn't say.
•Twenty-six percent of Maryland voters like the job Rawlings-Blake has done managing the city, while 20 percent don't. But the majority either couldn't or wouldn't pass judgment.
The margin of error for those questions is 2.8 percentage points.
Despite O'Malley's weak support for president among likely Democratic primary voters, the poll found they overwhelmingly approve of the job he's done as governor. They like his management of the state by a margin of 65 percent to 22 percent Republicans disapprove by a whopping 81 percent to 10 percent margin.
The preference by Maryland Democrats for other presidential hopefuls "is not a good sign for him," said Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks. To be seen as a viable candidate on the national stage, it's "almost a prerequisite" to have the backing of your home state.
"For these second tier candidates, it's advocates from their own state who go to Iowa and New Hampshire" to sell them to voters, Raabe said. O'Malley, he said, "definitely has some work to do here at home."
It's also clear from the poll results that the state's Democrats have "tremendous affection" for Clinton, Raabe said. Though she lost to Barack Obama in Maryland's 2008 primary, she's been a well-known figure for years — as First Lady in the Clinton administration, a New York senator, Obama's rival in 2008 and then secretary of state.
"Politically speaking, she's a giant," Raabe said.
Meenan, who considers himself fiscally conservative but socially liberal, is among those impressed by Clinton.
"I think she's strong and will not be pushed around by a recalcitrant Congress," he said.
"She doesn't run from things," agreed Darryl Dandridge, 50, of Baltimore. He said he's also drawn to Clinton because he rates her husband, Bill Clinton, the best president he's ever known.
"I feel he would have a little influence on what she does," Dandridge said.
But in a ray of hope for O'Malley's presidential bid, Dandridge said if Clinton does not run, "he would get my vote."
On the other hand, Sharon Delosh of Baltimore said she prefers Biden, the former longtime Delaware senator, and can't abide either Clinton or O'Malley. She expressed unhappiness with tax and fee increases adopted during O'Malley's tenure.
"It just seems like since he's been in office, everything's gone up," said Delosh, 64, who's on disability after a long career working for an insurance broker.
Laura Mullen, 45, a state employee from Baltimore, thinks O'Malley has been "doing the best he can" with a difficult economy. But she prefers Biden because "he has experience, he's no-nonsense" and doesn't engage in "mud-slinging."
Of O'Malley, she said, "I don't think it's his time."
Frances Caughey, though, said she would vote for O'Malley for president because she thinks he's been a good governor. A Sierra Club member, she likes O'Malley's environmental record because the Chesapeake bay "needs work."
"Biden is too old, and I think Hillary is too tired," added Caughey, 71, a retired school teacher in West Laurel.
On the Republican side, Raabe said Carson's rise to the top of a short list of GOP presidential prospects goes beyond his local name recognition. He's been a guest commentator on Fox News and other conservative TV and radio shows, and billboards went up recently on some Maryland highways touting him as a candidate.
"I like his honesty and integrity," said Paul Albaugh, a 58 year-old burial vault installer in Union Bridge.
Linda Swoboda, a part-time actress and substitute teacher from Severna Park, prefers New Jersey's governor. She said recent negative publicity about possible political retaliation by Christie's administration hasn't affected her opinion of him.
"I just like his personality, I guess, and he seems to be an honest, take-charge kind of guy. And he's a big Bruce Springsteen fan," said Swoboda, who described herself as "middle-aged."
Bonnie Chandler, 70, of Street in Harford County, backs Christie but would switch to Carson if the New Jersey governor doesn't run. Chandler dismissed the investigation into the Christie administration by the Democrat-led New Jersey legislature. "It's a set-up because he's a threat to them," she said.
While Rawlings-Blake posted weak statewide approval ratings, Raabe said they likely reflect a general lack of familiarity with her outside the Baltimore area. In the city, where she is best known, she has similar-sized groups of supporters and detractors.
Lena Musgrove of Grayson Park in Southeast Baltimore pointed to a highly local reason for her disapproval of Rawlings-Blake.
"Dundalk Avenue is a mess," she said. Musgrove, a Republican who is over 65, said the road keeps being filled in and torn up again. She also differs with the mayor over raising water charges, complaining that the city isn't doing enough to collect from utility bill deadbeats.
But Sharon Reuter, who lives in Ridgely's Delight, said she was impressed Rawlings-Blake had the vision to bring the Grand Prix to Baltimore and fought an uphill battle to keep it. While Reuter said there are a lot of things that could be improved about the city, she thinks Rawlings-Blake deserves the benefit of the doubt.
"It's a really tough job," she said. "Sure, we have city woes. I know that the crime stats are up, at least the murders are up again, and I feel like she's trying to address those things."
Baltimore Sun reporters Michael Dresser, John Fritze and Erin Cox contributed to this article.
About the poll
OpinionWorks of Annapolis conducted the poll for The Baltimore Sun. It surveyed 1,199 likely Maryland voters by telephone Feb. 8 to 12, including 500 likely Democratic primary voters and 499 likely Republican primary voters. The margin of error is 4.4 percentage points for questions about each of the two primaries and 2.8 percentage points for general questions such as job performance of elected officials.