Eli Allen can’t remember whom he voted for in the Democratic gubernatorial primary — “everyone was frankly very similar” — but the Pikesville resident does know it wasn’t Wes Moore, who eked out a win in the crowded field.
Nevertheless, Allen said he plans to vote for Moore in November, saying that Republican nominee Dan Cox’s extremism and association with former president Donald Trump is too off-putting.
“Many of the Cox signs I see are next to signs for Trump and Pence that have Pence’s name crossed out because of his reaction to the January 6th insurrection hearings,” the 41-year-old software engineer said.
Though Republicans and Democrats were split on primary gubernatorial candidates, a new poll suggests that most Maryland voters have now thrown their support behind their party’s nominee for the midterm elections.
About 85% of Democratic respondents to a new poll funded and co-sponsored by the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College, The Baltimore Banner and WYPR plan to vote for Wes Moore, and 79% of Republican respondents plan to vote for Dan Cox.
“People were really fluid and undecided, on both the Democratic and Republican side, and that’s just not the case right now,” said pollster Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics.
The poll was conducted by phone from Sept. 8 to Sept. 12 with 1,008 randomly selected Maryland voters. It has a margin of sampling error of 3.1%.
Voters rally behind split field nominees
When Marylanders were polled in the summer, weeks ahead of the primary, Peter Franchot, Wes Moore and Tom Perez were in a statistical dead heat with 16%, 14% and 14% of Democratic respondents’ support, respectively. More than a third remained undecided. That poll, also co-sponsored by The Banner, Goucher and WYPR, was conducted by phone from June 15 to 19, with 502 registered Democrats and 507 registered Republicans. Its margin of error is 4.4%.
Ultimately, Moore made it across the finish line with just under a third of votes, with Perez trailing at 30% and Franchot at 21%.
The most recent poll results show that two months after the primary, Maryland’s electorate has coalesced behind party nominees in the general election race to succeed term-limited Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican.
At the same time, respondents have also held firm on some issues, such as their opinions of President Biden and former president Trump, their frustration with inflation and their attitudes toward abortion.
Democratic poll respondents cited a variety of reasons for supporting Moore; chief among them are Cox’s far-right extremism and alignment with Trump.
Brennan Cabell, a 41-year-old Baltimore City firefighter, originally voted for Franchot. He said he hadn’t heard of Moore before the primary, but that he now automatically gets his vote as a Democrat.
“The Republican that’s running is too affiliated with Trump,” the White Marsh resident said.
Mark Sharf, a Baltimore playwright and self-described moderate Democrat, also originally voted for Franchot. He echoed Cabell’s concerns about Cox and said Moore is the obvious choice.
“I feel right now that our democratic system is under attack by fringe Republicans who have moved to the mainstream,” he said. “Government is not supposed to be that way. I don’t know what happened to compromise.”
Shortly after Moore declared victory in the gubernatorial race, Franchot, Perez and other Democratic competitors rallied their support behind him. That coalition, coupled with Cox’s inability to win over most moderate Democrats, is reflected in the September poll respondents’ support for Moore, Kromer said.
Moore commands a lead of 53% to 31% in the race against Cox among 748 likely voters in the poll. More than two-thirds of respondents said they were set in their choice.
In the Republican primary, the June Goucher poll showed a tight race between Cox, a state delegate, and Kelly Schulz, a former state secretary of commerce who received Hogan’s stamp of approval. Cox had 25% of Republican respondents’ support to Schulz’s 22%, while another 44% were undecided.
Ultimately, Cox beat Schulz by nearly nine points with 52% of the vote. Republican respondents in September’s poll appear to have rallied around him: 79% said they’d vote for him.
“Partisans want to come home,” Kromer said.
Mary Zaepfel, a mother of three in Carroll County, is a longtime Cox supporter. She said her biggest concern is overreach by the government.
“I’m not for bigger and bigger government, and I worked for the federal government in my past,” she said, saying that she is concerned that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and organizations like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “could all of a sudden dictate our rights and freedoms” when the pandemic hit.
“I want my freedom back,” she said.
Phil Gruber, a Timonium resident and small-business owner, said he voted for Schulz in the Republican primary. He derided Cox as being too far right, but the self-described centrist conservative said he’ll vote for the Republican nominee in November.
Moore “seems like a really great salesman,” but Gruber isn’t familiar with the Democrat’s closest group of advisers, who he said are almost more important than who’s elected.
Todd Eberly, an associate professor of political science and coordinator of Public Policy Studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said Republicans are generally guaranteed about 30% of the vote in state elections.
“Occasionally, some manage to get to 35%,” he said. “The fact that Hogan won not only once, but won a second time by double digits is unique. Hogan, a moderate, showed a way that Republicans can win Maryland, but with Cox they went in the complete opposite direction.”
Pollsters made their last calls in June to voters the week before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that made access to abortion a federal right, paving the way for individual states to restrict access to abortion or ban it altogether. An initial draft of the majority opinion was leaked in May.
Before the decision was officially overturned, Democratic and Republican respondents generally agreed that abortion should be legal at least some of the time. About 60% of blue voters said abortion should be legal under all circumstances and 28% said it should be legal only under certain circumstances. Republican respondents supported tighter restrictions: 57% said abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances while 18% said under all circumstances.
More Democratic than Republican respondents said the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will make them more likely to turn out in the midterm elections in November — 61% of Democrats said they are more motivated to cast a ballot, compared to 17% of Republicans.
That motivation may boost turnout, Kromer said.
While Maryland has enshrined access to abortion in its state constitution, some poll respondents say they want leaders who will advocate for access on the federal level.
Shelly Fishpaw of Bel Air was registered as an independent until this summer, after she had what she called a heartbreaking conversation with her adult daughter, who is about to start a family.
“She was extremely scared for what this meant about pregnancy complications and went as far as getting a passport, in case something happened to her and she needed medical treatment,” she said. “I had to reassure her that we’re in Maryland, so she’d be all right.”
But the overturning of a decision in place for more than 50 years is still stunning, said Fishpaw, who runs a small business that trains plumbers and gasfitters. She is now a registered Democrat and will vote blue for every race on the ballot, citing the party’s position on abortion rights.
Cabell, the Baltimore firefighter and Democrat, said he is pro-abortion rights but did not feel more motivated to vote than usual because of the court’s decision.
“It didn’t really have an effect because I live in Maryland; we’re a liberal state and it, doesn’t change anything for us, unlike red states,” he said.
Nearly the same amount of Democrats and Republicans — 45% and 44%, respectively — said a candidate’s position on abortion is one of many important factors in how they cast their ballots.
Zaepfel of Carroll County said a candidate’s abortion stance is a major issue for her. She plans on voting red in every race on the ballot.
“I’m a practicing Catholic, and it’s very sad to me that the president and speaker of the House [Nancy Pelosi], who are also supposed to be Catholic, are the most anti-life people in government,” she said.
Support for Biden and Trump remains split across party lines
Both Democrats and Republicans appear to feel about the same as they did in June about their party’s top leaders.
In September, about three-quarters of Democratic respondents approved of President Biden’s performance in the White House. About three months ago, 71% of Democratic respondents said they had a favorable opinion of the president.
Christopher Schneider, a 33-year-old software developer in Carroll County, thinks Biden is doing a decent job in office, given the hand he was dealt. “He has promises, though he’s slower on delivering them than everyone was hoping,” he said.
Sharf, the Baltimore playwright, said Biden got his stamp of approval because most of his policies have come into fruition.
“He’s refreshingly normal and a stand-up guy,” Sharf said.
In September, 84% of Republican respondents disapproved of Biden’s job performance. In June, 91% of respondents had an unfavorable opinion of the president.
Kromer attributed the lack of significant opinion shift toward Biden to “another thing that has been consistent across both polls: People are still concerned about the economic situation.”
In June, 72% of Democratic respondents and 88% of Republicans called inflation a hardship. More than 60% of respondents in both parties still called inflation a hardship in September.
“Economic hardships, like concerns about price increases, dampens the political theater that makes someone broadly appealing across party lines,” Kromer said.
Headlines about the January 6th hearings and the FBI raid of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence do not appear to have soured Republicans on their party leader. In September, 69% of Republicans respondents had favorable opinions of Trump. About three months ago, 78% of Republicans said they had a favorable opinion of the former president.
“Unlike Obama before him, who went on an apology tour of his country, Trump made you feel proud to be an American,” Zaepfel of Carroll County said. “Biden makes you feel anything but.”
Gruber, the small-business owner from Timonium, said he voted for Trump twice, despite his contempt for the former president’s combative rhetoric online. He pointed to the economic policy changes rolled out by the Trump administration, like exiting trade agreements that Gruber said benefited overseas commerce at the expense of U.S. labor.
Trump “stood up to the world powers,” he said. “I just wish he didn’t have a Twitter account.”
Baltimore Banner reporter Taylor DeVille contributed to this report.