Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley is in a very close race with Republican Robert Ehrlich in a state where Democrats outnumber Republican registered voters by a 2-1 margin, according to a new poll released Tuesday.
The poll by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies found O'Malley ahead of his predecessor by 3 percentage points, which is within the poll's margin of error. O'Malley led 45 percent to Ehrlich's 42 percent in the survey, which has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Five percent said they would vote for some other candidate, and 8 percent were undecided.
The latest poll shows Ehrlich has gained ground compared to when Gonzales last released a poll in January, when O'Malley led 48 percent to 39 percent, with 13 percent undecided.
O'Malley, speaking to reporters after a health care event in Baltimore, said Monday before the poll's release that he expected to see poll results going back and forth.
"These polls are snapshots in time," O'Malley said. "I think that what you will see in the course of this campaign is that some polls will show us a little bit up, some polls will show us a little bit down and that pingpong game will go on throughout the campaign."
Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said the survey indicated that Ehrlich's message of lower taxes and less spending was resonating with voters during tough times.
"We expect this race to remain very close," Fawell said in a statement. "Bob Ehrlich will remain focused on reaching out to everyday Marylanders to discuss his plan to lead an economic resurgence in Maryland."
The poll found that Republicans are more unified in their support for Ehrlich than Democrats are for O'Malley. For example, 67 percent of Democrats said they supported O'Malley, while 19 percent said they supported Ehrlich, with 10 percent undecided.
Among Republican voters, 84 percent backed Ehrlich while only 8 percent supported O'Malley, with only 4 percent undecided, according to the poll.
Unaffiliated voters were evenly split 39 percent to 39 percent between O'Malley and Ehrlich, with 14 percent undecided.
O'Malley said tough times caused by the recession have made it hard for Democratic incumbent governors.
"Our country is coming through the most challenging economic times we've seen since the Great Depression, and for that reason, I think you'll only find one Democratic incumbent governor in the United States that's not in what the pundits would call a competitive race, and that's Mike Beebe, I say jealously," O'Malley said, noting Arkansas' popular governor.
O'Malley said he will be working to communicate with undecided voters that Maryland is in much better economic shape than many other states, and that the state is better positioned to bounce back from the recession.
"Our challenge is to communicate that and to talk about the very substantive real things we've done to speed the recovery here in Maryland."
The pollsters called 807 registered voters who are likely to vote in November. The poll was conducted from July 13 through July 21.
O'Malley defeated Ehrlich in the 2006 governor's race with 53 percent of the vote to 46 percent.
The poll released Tuesday noted that the economy continues to be the number one issue for Maryland voters, with 52 percent saying it's the most important issue facing the state.
Statewide, 48 percent said they approve of the job O'Malley is doing as governor, with 39 percent saying they disapprove. Among unaffiliated voters, 45 percent approved of the job O'Malley is doing while 40 percent disapproved.
Ehrlich had a 46 percent approval rating statewide, with 23 percent having an unfavorable opinion. Registered independents had a 45 percent approval rating of Ehrlich, and 16 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
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