By Andrew A. Green
Originally published October 31, 2002
For the first time, Democrat C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger has opened a
significant lead against Republican Helen Delich Bentley in their race for
Maryland's 2nd Congressional District, according to a new poll.
The Maryland Poll - conducted for The Sun and The Gazette newspapers
- found that Ruppersberger, the Baltimore County executive, leads the
former congresswoman 46 percent to 38 percent, with 15 percent
undecided with less than a week before Election Day. When undecided
voters leaning one way or the other are taken into account,
Ruppersberger's lead increases to 49-40.
"The race has turned from a statistical dead heat into a contest that
appears to be Ruppersberger's to lose with one week to go," said Keith
Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research, which conducted the poll.
The survey of 478 voters, taken Sunday though Tuesday, is the first
published poll in which either candidate showed a lead greater than the
margin of error, which is plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The numbers suggest that in the waning days of the race, as both sides
have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television advertising,
Ruppersberger has done a better job of shifting attitudes about himself
and his opponent.
Early polls showed Bentley with an advantage in the ratio of voters who
viewed her favorably vs. unfavorably. But in this survey, 52 percent of
voters said they had a favorable impression of Ruppersberger and 33
percent unfavorable, compared with a 44-41 ratio for Bentley.
"Whatever voters have heard about her in the last 30 days, many of them
have some problems with the way the Bentley candidacy is being
portrayed," Haller said.
The Bentley campaign saw the poll as a good sign - they said their own
surveys from recent weeks had shown them even further behind, hurt by a
barrage of negative advertising paid for by the Maryland Democratic
"[Gov.] Parris Glendening has spent over $1 million in independent
expenditures to give Dutch a seat," said Michael S. Kosmas, Bentley's
"We had fallen back even farther than your poll shows. Our national party
didn't even start fighting until a week ago, and we've closed back that
ground, and more of it is closing every day."
Democrats began running so-called issue ads supporting Ruppersberger
more than a month ago, but the Republican party only began airing
pro-Bentley ads last week.
Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for the National Republican
said the party will likely still be "heavily involved" in Bentley's campaign
Ruppersberger's campaign spokesman Rick Binetti said the Democrats
were heartened by the results.
"Polls are always nice when they go your way, but there's a job to do,
we've got to continue pushing our message and using that message to turn
out the vote," he said.
As in the last Maryland Poll, taken a month ago, Bentley wins handily in
the Harford County portion of the district, and Ruppersberger wins easily
But in Anne Arundel County, where Ruppersberger has campaigned
heavily, he has pulled even, and in Baltimore County, which makes up the
bulk of the district, he has pulled solidly ahead.
The poll contains other troubling signs for Bentley.
Nearly half of undecided voters said they believe it is important to send
Democrats to Congress to offer a check to Republican power, while only
14 percent believed it was better to elect Republicans to help President
Bush with the war on terror.
Ruppersberger has also solidified his base among Democrats and
especially among African-Americans, the poll shows. Black voters, who
make up more than a quarter of the district's electorate, favor
Ruppersberger, 77 percent to 10 percent.
"If the Democrats come home to the congressional nominee in sufficient
numbers, there's just no way for Bentley to overcome that," Haller said.
Ruppersberger also appears better situated financially for the final days
the campaign. He has raised more money than Bentley - a little more than
$1 million to her $730,000 at last reporting - and he has more cash on
Bentley still has a major fund-raiser, with former New York Mayor
Rudolph W. Giuliani as the headliner, and has collected more than
$70,000 in the past week.
Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College in
Westminster, who recently did an analysis of campaign ads in the race
with other area professors of politics, said Ruppersberger's negative ads
have been more sharply focused and better packaged than Bentley's,
Ruppersberger has also aired a simultaneous track of positive advertising
featuring Mayor Martin O'Malley asking voters to pick his friend, the
Baltimore County executive. Bentley has not had a purely positive ad on
the air in recent weeks.
"If you don't have the positives, your image gets filled in by your
opponents' negative spots," Smith said. "And Martin is like the Cal Ripken
of Maryland politics, particularly in the Baltimore metropolitan area."
Della Britt-Golden, 68, an African-American voter from Cherry Hill, said
it was Ruppersberger's in-person campaigning, not television ads, that
convinced her to vote for him.
She said he came with his entire family to speak at the Cherry Hill Senior
Center, and he impressed her with his friendliness and sincerity.
"Guess what? I'm going to get as many people to vote for him as I can,"
said the retiree. "He was so warm, and so many of the other politicians
never even bothered to come see the elderly, especially in Cherry Hill."
Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun