Ehrlich, O’Malley and poll overload

As Election Day draws near and polls put Martin O’Malley’s lead over Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. at five, eight, 10, 11 and 14 points, count on the New York Times for a little clarity.

The statistical gurus who run www.fivethirtyeight.com, compiling mountains of polling data in months leading up to the 2008 presidential election, have migrated their work to the Times and are keeping an eye on hundreds of midterm races. Among those, lucky for us, is the Maryland governor’s race.

They input all the publicly available data into their statistical model and spit out projected election results (O’Malley 53.7 percent, Ehrlich 43.7 percent on Oct. 26) and the chances that O’Malley hangs on to his seat (96.3 percent). A set of forecasts is listed at the bottom of the page.

Look at the data below the charts for the polls they use, and the weight assigned to each in the model. The Oct. 26 model likes the ABC/Post poll that showed O’Malley with a 54-40 lead the best.

Ehrlich has dismissed the recent poll results, saying that an internal poll conducted by his campaign shows O’Malley only up 3 points.

The trend in the race the statistical model reveals is interesting. The race was closest in the middle of July, with just a few fractions of a percentage point separating the candidates. But after that, O’Malley developed a small lead through the rest of the summer. He was the only candidate advertising at that point, using his sizable money advantage to buy up TV and radio spots.

O’Malley’s lead widened in September, when his attack ads began to hit. And in October, O’Malley’s lead really opened up, as individual polls have shown.

Maryland voters weigh in on budget balancing

If you’re not sick of polls, check out this budget-balancing question asked by Maryland Reporter in the latest survey by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies Inc.

Much has been made about the would-be tax policies of Martin O’Malley and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the coming year. But the Maryland Reporter question actually asked the people who would be paying the higher taxes or coping with decreased services how they felt about the situation.

When asked about the $6 billion in deficits the state faces over the next four years, nearly half of the voters said they prefer a combination of tax increases and budget trimming, while only 18 percent said they prefer budget cutting alone. Read the analysis by Len Lazarick.

The poll surveyed 816 likely voters last week.

Dems try to get out the (early) vote

Former President Bill Clinton joined most of Maryland’s big-time Democratic officeholders at a rally Thursday afternoon and evening, imploring hundreds of supporters to cast their ballots on Election Day and the days before.

“Martin O’Malley has put you in the forefront of the 21st century,” Clinton said, “and you need to keep him right there.”

Clinton hit on several of O’Malley’s common campaign themes — a four-year college tuition freeze (although only three of those years were during O’Malley’s term) and high rankings for education and high-tech businesses.

O’Malley’s opponent in the gubernatorial contest, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., announced Thursday he would be bringing his own big gun Sunday. He will campaign Sunday in Montgomery County with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

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Anne Arundel slots: Are they in or are they out?

The war of words between The Cordish Cos. and opponents of its Anne Arundel County casino came down to this on Wednesday — will the casino be in the Arundel Mills shopping mall, or at the mall?

Cordish’s opponents, including the Maryland Jockey Club and Penn National Gaming, have indicated in television ads the slot machines would actually be inside the mall. Lately, they’ve used a newspaper’s paraphrasing of a statement made by Larry Tom, Anne Arundel County director of planning and zoning, to say the casino and the mall will be connected.

(My blog post on Wednesday elicited an e-mail response within two hours from the Stop Slots group, asserting once more that the casino will be in the mall, and using the Gazette article as proof.)

Not so, said Tom in a Cordish press release sent to reporters Wednesday.

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Pro-slots holds slim lead in Anne Arundel County

Developer David Cordish and his supporters in Anne Arundel County have a slim lead in the campaign to win zoning approval for a casino next to the Arundel Mills shopping mall, according to a poll released Wednesday.

But, that edge may not be enough, according to the pollster, Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies Inc.

The poll found 48 percent of Anne Arundel County voters support the mall-side casino plan (or, rather, the zoning that would allow Cordish, who holds a gaming license, to move ahead with development of the Maryland Live! Casino) while 45 percent said they would vote against it. Seven percent were undecided.

Despite the lead, analysis done by Gonzales said Cordish’s side will need to flip more voters to its side by Nov. 2.

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Maryland’s business ranking slips, but so does Va.’s

Maryland slid two places this year in the Forbes ranking of the “Best States for Businesses and Careers.”

The ol’ line state is still in the top 15 nationwide, however, sitting in the 14th spot after holding No. 12 last year.

This year, however, the schadenfreude can flow both ways across the Potomac, as Virginia, long Maryland’s foil in discussions of business climate and friendliness, was knocked from its perch atop the rankings by Utah.

Virginia, which held the top spot for the four previous years, had to settle for No. 2 in 2010.

Much of the governor’s race has revolved around business issues, and the topic of business regulation has actually bubbled up in the debates between former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Gov. Martin O’Malley. (Ehrlich, in an interview with The Daily Record this week, said he would take a “power house” to the Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation.)

Like all the business rankings that have come before it, the Forbes list has some statistics for everyone. The study looked at regulatory environment, labor supply, economic climate, business costs, quality of life and growth prospects in all 50 states.

Maryland fared well in the labor supply (8th nationally), quality of life (8), and, perhaps surprisingly, regulatory environment (9). Those first two categories play into the strengths of O’Malley, who never shies away from talking about the quality of the public schools and universities in the state and, more generally, the quality of life here.

The regulatory environment ranking could give O’Malley an easy retort to Ehrlich’s claims about regulators treating businesses like piggy banks, rather than partners in economic development. Of course, Virginia had the second-best regulatory environment.

Maryland was in the middle of the pack for economic climate (19) and growth prospects (29) but got killed in the business costs category, finishing 49th in the country. That category includes things like labor, energy and taxes, and was weighted most heavily in determining the overall ranking, according to Forbes. Only Massachusetts did worse in business costs, and finished 16th overall.

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about those last three rankings from Ehrlich, especially the issue of business costs. Along with the regulatory environment criticisms, Ehrlich has said the tax burden on businesses is oppressive.

Virginia’s strongest attributes, according to Forbes, are its regulatory environment (No. 2 in the country), labor supply (3), economic climate (4) and quality of life (6). Prospects for growth there ranked 14th, and business costs, 24th.

So what does it all really mean? Well, one thing it doesn’t mean is that Maryland is definitely the 14th most business-friendly state. Depending on who you ask, Maryland ranges anywhere from 3 to 45 on lists gauging business friendliness in some form or fashion.

Ehrlich dishes on bracelets, Silly Bandz

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the former Maryland delegate, U.S. representative and, of course, governor, wears a Silly Band.

(For those of you not in the know, Silly Bandz is the plural. And that’s how the rubber bands shaped like dinosaurs, pop stars and cartoon characters are generally worn — several, dozens, at a time.)

The Republican gubernatorial candidate, however, just wears the one. He visited The Daily Record for an interview this week and as the questions were wrapping up, one of the editors asked about the bracelets visible below the cuff of his shirt.

The question led to the most somber stretch of the interview with the normally affable Ehrlich.

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Ehrlich to weigh in on Calvert Cliffs nuclear project

With the state and French energy giant EDF scrambling to revive a deal to build a third nuclear reactor at the Calvert Cliffs power plant, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. plans to wade into the fray.

The once, and perhaps future, Republican governor said he plans to talk to Constellation Energy officials this weekend. The company on Friday turned down an offer of a $7.5 billion federal loan guarantee, a lynchpin in the Calvert Cliffs 3 project.

“We’ll be talking to the Constellation folks and hopefully this can be pulled out of the fire,” Ehrlich said Wednesday after a campaign event at Maryland Thermoform Corp., a plastics manufacturer in southwest Baltimore.

“It’s a not done deal yet, but this is potential loss of 4,000 construction jobs, 400 permanent jobs, improving our [power] grid, which is obviously a matter of regional and national security,” he said.

Ehrlich has criticized Gov. Martin O’Malley for not doing enough to make sure the deal went through, and the two men have traded blows throughout the campaign over energy policy.

O’Malley met Tuesday with EDF officials in hopes of saving the reactor project. And EDF said Wednesday it would alter its agreement with Constellation to allow the project to move forward either by buying Constellation out of the joint venture or shouldering more of the risk.

Attack ads aren’t going away anytime soon

There are some widely divergent views of the advertising in the governor’s race, but one thing most experts agree on is voters should expect to see lots of negative ads as we get closer to Election Day.

As we covered in Friday’s story on negative advertising, it was inevitable in the Ehrlich-O’Malley rematch and it tends to work.

But that doesn’t mean Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Martin O’Malley like doing it.

One very interesting point Johns Hopkins University professor Matthew Crenson pointed out was that in the attack ads, the candidates often don’t use video of themselves during the obligatory “I’m so and so and I approved this message” clip at the end of every ad. Crenson’s theory is they do this to distance the candidate from the attacks on his opponent, to keep them above the muck as much as possible.

Still, Crenson said, “It’s really standard negative adverstising.”

The campaigns have also been careful to mix in ads that are lighter and more cheerful. O’Malley started with a set of spots about his pro-business achievements, then hit Ehrlich hard on the taxes vs. fees issue and then came back with ads on the state of the schools. Ehrlich, on the other hand, started off with forward-looking pieces about wanting to “get back to work” before criticizing O’Malley on the economy, and then returning to the first message with his first media buy in the DC ‘burbs.

“I think that alternating positive/negative ads is predictable, especially for the O’Malley campaign,” said Shawn-Parry Giles, director of the Center for Political Communication and Civic Leadership at the University of Maryland. “Often, campaign ads juxtapose futuristic messages of dystopia versus utopia. Ehrlich has so few ads posted at this point to get a clear sense of the pattern. But, not unexpectedly, Ehrlich is on the attack, trying to take advantage of O’Malley’s vulnerabilities.”

Richard Vatz, a Towson University rhetoric professor, described the ad battle this year as somewhat of a paradox. The pool of voters the two men will be able to sway is smaller than it was four years ago because both men, as you probably remember, have had four years as governor to win supporters, make enemies and establish a record. But, those undecided few are crucial, because they can have a large impact on the race.

“In this election, it appears to be so close that if you can change a few points by advertising, it can matter a great deal,” Vatz said.

So, buckle yourselves in and prepare for the attack ads. They’ll be coming in bunches.

As I wrote that last sentence my Outlook kindly informed me I have a new ad from Ehrlich’s campaign. They’re offering a sneak peek at the next ad to air. According to the message, it “outlines Martin O’Malley’s four year record of failure.”

See what I mean? There’s still negative campaigning to be done, voters to win over.

“There are people out there that aren’t really paying that much attention, and those people are really easy to influence,” said John Patterson, creative director at MGH Inc. “All you have to do is get in front of them a few times.”