Friday, December 18, 2009

Can Ehrlich Defeat O’Malley? Part Five

How would a 2010 matchup between former Governor Bob Ehrlich and current Governor Martin O’Malley play out? Our prediction is that it will look like the 2002 and 2006 races with small changes determining the outcome.

The Democratic recipe for winning a statewide race is to maximize Democratic turnout, especially in their Big Three strongholds (Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties), while keeping net losses in the rest of the state to a minimum. The Republican recipe for success is to maximize GOP turnout, get a decisive edge among independents and flip enough moderate and conservative Democrats to overwhelm their opponents’ Big Three. Here’s how those strategies played out for Bob Ehrlich in 2002 and 2006.

Ehrlich won the 2002 election by 66,170 votes and lost the 2006 election by 116,815 votes, a swing of 182,985. What accounts for that swing? The Democrats piled up margins of 253,862 votes for Townsend and 279,769 votes O’Malley over Ehrlich in their Big Three, a net change of just 25,907 votes. So the Big Three did not change the outcome. The deciding jurisdictions were Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford Counties. Ehrlich won them by 160,247 votes over Townsend, but won them by just 61,783 votes over O’Malley. That net change of 98,464 votes was by itself enough to hand the election to O’Malley. The rest of the state contributed a net swing of 23,128 votes to the Democrats, a smaller contribution than the Big Three.

We believe that Ehrlich’s performance in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford Counties will be somewhere between his 2002 and 2006 margins, probably closer to 2002 because of the poor state of the economy. That argues for a close election except for one thing: the increased Democratic registration advantage. Since the 2002 general election, the Democrats have added 126,739 registrants in Prince George’s County, 70,186 registrants in Montgomery County and 47,780 registrants in Baltimore City. The GOP has added just 73,479 registrants statewide. If just 40% of these new Big Three Democrats turn out to vote for O’Malley, that gives the Democrats an extra 100,000 votes – a bulwark against any modest improvement over 2006 by Ehrlich in the Baltimore suburbs.

Bob Ehrlich needs a historic turnout edge by the GOP, significant anti-O’Malley turnout by independents, an awful governing and campaign performance by the incumbent, a disappearance by newly registered Obama Democrats and lots of money to win. Of those factors, only the money is likely to happen. That means Martin O’Malley, even with all of his problems, is the favorite to defeat Ehrlich for a second time. Let’s be conservative and call it a mid-to-low single digits victory.