In Maryland’s Republican primary campaign for governor, the top two candidates — Dan Cox and Kelly Schulz — are statistically tied with a large portion of voters still undecided, according to a new poll.

Cox, a state delegate from Frederick County, received 25% support and Schulz, a former state secretary of commerce, received 22% support of 414 likely Republican voters polled by the Goucher College Poll in partnership with The Baltimore Banner and WYPR. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.8%, which means that the two candidates are effectively tied.

Another 44% of those polled were undecided, so there’s plenty of room for either candidate to make a move before the July 19 primary, said Goucher College pollster Mileah Kromer.

And even those who picked a candidate didn’t have firm support. Nearly half said they were open to changing their mind.

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Besides Cox and Schulz, two other Republicans are on the ballot. Baltimore County attorney Joe Werner had 3% support and Montgomery County anti-tax advocate and former attorney Robin Ficker had 2% support.

Read the results of the Goucher College poll of Maryland voters

Cox and Schulz have drawn clear distinctions from each other. Cox is a conservative politician who boasts the endorsement of former President Donald J. Trump and has pitted himself against outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Schulz, meanwhile, is a protege of Hogan, worked in his cabinet and has his endorsement.

That leaves Republican voters with a choice: Go with a candidate similar to what Maryland has seen for the last eight years, or opt for a candidate who styles himself after Trump?

For Harford County retiree Pete Peddicord, who responded to the poll, the choice is clear. He supports Cox.

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“He seems to be independent-minded and he’s got to be better than the hypocrite that we have in now,” said Peddicord, 73.

Peddicord said Hogan too often seems to govern based on poll results, rather than conservative values. He worries Schulz would be more of the same.

Besides, Cox has the support of two politicians Peddicord admires: Trump and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris.

Peddicord said he approves of Cox’s “stance on returning Maryland to a law-and-order” state, and believes Cox will crack down on illegal immigrants who are using up government resources.

Schulz’s association with Hogan resonates with Burl Tuller, a retired Baltimore Police Department sergeant who lives in Dundalk and responded to the poll.

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“She’s a protege of Governor Hogan and a lot of his policies,” said Tuller, 68. “I think Kelly will continue to do the same.”

Tuller said he is concerned about the economy as well as “crime control, or lack of.”

“Unfortunately each day it gets worse than it did in the past,” Tuller said.

The top two candidates have more than different styles, they also have different chances for victory against a Democrat in November, according to Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College.

Maryland’s Democrats far outnumber Republicans, so for a GOP candidate to be successful, they must win over at least 25% of Democratic and independent voters. That’s the formula used by Hogan to win election in 2014 and reelection in 2018.

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Schulz is following the same playbook in her campaign, focusing on pocketbook issues and fighting crime and trying to avoid hot-button issues like abortion that could turn off Democrats. In one campaign ad, Schulz walks among cardboard cutouts of the Democratic candidates talking about how she’s a better choice — and leaving out any mention of her primary opponent Cox.

Cox, meanwhile, has promoted a campaign message of “restoring freedom to the Free State,” saying that Marylanders’ rights have been unduly restricted, especially due to the coronavirus pandemic. He frequently promotes the fact that he’s been endorsed by Trump.

If Maryland Republicans nominate Cox, they could be risking a win in November.

In this poll, 84% of Democrats who were surveyed said that they would not even consider voting for Cox in the general election. That makes it exceedingly difficult for Cox to be successful in November, Kromer said.

Schulz didn’t get much support from Democrats, but potentially enough to have a chance in November. A total of 23% of Democrats polled said they would consider Schulz in the general election, along with 11% who said “it depends” whether or not they’d consider Schulz.

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“A Republican like Hogan makes it a competitive race,” Kromer said. “A Republican like Trump does not.”

Both Cox and Schulz have room to build their support with so many voters — 44% in this poll — undecided.

“With all of those undecideds, that tells me that people are not paying a lot of attention to the race,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland who teaches a course in Maryland politics.

About one-quarter of Republican voters are the “activist Trumpian base of the party” who would undoubtedly support Cox. Another one-quarter are “establishment Republicans” who are likely loyal to Cox, Eberly said.

“The real battle is for that 44 percent of folks who aren’t paying enough attention yet to pick somebody,” Eberly said.

Matt Krivoniak responded in the poll that he would support Cox, but on further review he said he’s not sure. Krivoniak, a 45-year-old from Carroll County who works in the construction industry, said he hasn’t heard too much from either of the leading candidates, just a few mailers.

Krivoniak said his main concern is the economy. He’s able to work from home, so he’s dodged some of the worst aspects of inflation, including high gas prices. But he worries about how the economy affects the construction industry.

“The economy affects me more than anything else,” he said. “If the economy isn’t going, then construction dies.”

The Goucher College Poll was conducted from June 15-19 via landlines and cell phones.

The name of a retired police sergeant who responded to the poll was misspelled. His name is Burl Tuller.

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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