Candidates increase intensity in tight races
Oct. 25, 2002
Steven T. Dennis and David Abrams
Staff Writers

Congressional and gubernatorial candidates continued their barrages of television ads as a new poll shows both races deadlocked two weeks before the Nov. 5 general election.

The independent Gonzales/Arscott Research and Communications poll of 840 likely voters taken Oct. 14 to Oct. 20 shows U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) with a statistically insignificant 46 to 45 percent edge over Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) in the governor's race. Libertarian Spear Lancaster polled 1 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent for the statewide results.

A Mason-Dixon poll last week had Townsend with a 1-point lead and a 4 percent margin of error.

In the 8th Congressional District race between U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella (R) of Bethesda and state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D) of Kensington, the Gonzales/Arscott poll of 333 likely voters shows Morella with a 44 to 42 percent lead, within the margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percent.

But Morella's negatives have more than doubled to 20 percent, from 8 percent in July, while her favorable rating has dipped to 56 percent. Van Hollen has a nearly identical profile, with 57 percent holding a favorable view and 21 percent unfavorable.

Ehrlich's negative rating soared to 33 percent, from 21 percent in September, due to constant attacks from Townsend and her surrogates over his conservative voting record in Congress. But Townsend's negatives also rose, this time to 39 percent.

On Monday, both gubernatorial campaigns began airing new television ads. Ehrlich released a trio of testimonials from a teacher, his running mate and a civil rights lawyer, each preaching a need for change.

Two of the ads focus on African-Americans.

"What has struck me in terms of Bob Ehrlich and Michael Steele is that they have come forward with an agenda of fighting discrimination in the workplace, of economic development and economic empowerment," says A. Dwight Pettit, a Baltimore civil rights attorney, in one ad.

Another Ehrlich ad features a former state Teacher of the Year and criticizes Townsend.

"Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has certainly been in office now for almost eight years," says Nancy Snyder, a teacher at Corkran Middle School in Glen Burnie who identifies herself as a registered Democrat. "She has only placed an emphasis on education in relation to the upcoming election."

A new Townsend ad that also began airing Monday continues to lambaste Ehrlich's record on gun control and the environment. Townsend touts her proposals to expand a ballistic fingerprinting program for guns and protect the Chesapeake Bay.

In the congressional race, Morella has continued with attack ads, painting Van Hollen as a Republican who backs tax cuts for the wealthy. One ad quotes Van Hollen's vanquished primary rival, Del. Mark K. Shriver, who accused the senator of distorting his record.

Shriver, who ran similar television ads in the closing days of the primary campaign, issued a statement saying he was disappointed that Morella is not talking about the issues.

The Gonzales/Arscott poll also showed a significant gender split, with Van Hollen leading by 9 points among women and Morella by 13 points among men.

Van Hollen's television ads have focused on his record of passing laws requiring trigger locks in new handguns, winning extra money for Montgomery County schools and protecting the Chesapeake Bay from oil drilling.

In televised debates on Newschannel 8 and Montgomery Community Television (Channel 21), however, Van Hollen has attacked Morella repeatedly on her vote for President Bush's $1.4 trillion tax cut, arguing that it belies her stated support for spending programs.

Independent candidate Stephen Bassett was admitted to the debate at Montgomery College televised Monday night by Newschannel 8 only after Morella threatened to withdraw if he was barred. He scored some rhetorical points with the crowd when talking about campaign finance reform, the two-party system and taxes.

But he was met with guffaws and exclamations of "Is he serious?" when he talked about his signature issue: his assertion that a vast government and media conspiracy has covered up an alien presence on the planet. He also suggested that reliance on foreign oil could be resolved if secret UFO-derived motor technology is disclosed by the government.