Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can Ehrlich Defeat O’Malley? Part Three

Bob Ehrlich became Governor in 2002 for a variety of factors. Let’s see if those factors are equally valid today to see if he can win again.

Republican Registration and Turnout

In 2002, Republicans accounted for 30.0% of registered voters in Maryland and had a turnout rate of 67.4%, a full 4.5 points better than the Democrats. They accounted for 32.7% of actual voters. A Gonzales poll taken a month before the election showed that they favored Ehrlich over Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend by a margin of 86-8%, or 78 points. Enthusiastic support and good turnout from his party was an essential ingredient in Ehrlich’s win.

Could it happen today?
Republicans account for just 26.6% of registered voters as of 10/31/09, a 3.4 point drop from 2002. If they are going to deliver for Ehrlich with the same impact that they had in 2002, they will have to launch a major registration drive or vastly increase their turnout margin over the Democrats.

In 2002, 1.74 Democrats voted in the general election for every Republican. If the Democrats turn out at their average rate for the last three gubernatorial general elections (61.8%) and the party registration percentages stay the same in 2010 as on 10/31/09, the GOP must have a turnout rate of 75.9% to keep pace with their 2002 ratio of 1 Republican voter for every 1.74 Democratic voters. Considering the fact that their turnout rate has varied between 62.6% and 67.4% in the last three gubernatorial elections, that is unlikely to happen.

The one 2002 fact that is likely to repeat is overwhelming Republican support for their nominee. The latest Gonzales poll showed that 16% of Republicans approved of Governor O’Malley while 66% disapproved, a 50-point negative gap. That gap will only grow if anti-O’Malley ads are aired next year.

Independent Registration and Turnout

In the 2002 general election, unaffiliated and other party registrants accounted for 13.9% of registered voters and 10.2% of actual voters. The Gonzales poll right before the election showed Ehrlich leading Townsend among independents by five points (39-34%), with 24% undecided. That same poll showed Ehrlich with a one-point edge among all voters. Since Ehrlich defeated Townsend by 3.9 points, we believe that independents broke for Ehrlich by a large margin, possibly by ten points or more.

Could it happen today?
Unaffiliated and other party registrants account for 16.6% of all registered voters today, a 2.7 point increase from 2002. But the GOP faces three challenges in turning them into Ehrlich voters in 2010. First, 41% of them live in Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, places where the Republican Party’s infrastructure is almost dead. Second, unaffiliated and other voters turned out at an average rate of 43.5% over the last three gubernatorial general elections, far below the rates of the GOP (64.3%) and the Democrats (61.8%). Third, the latest Gonzales poll showed that 41% of independents approved of Governor O’Malley’s performance and 39% disapproved. The GOP needs independents to turn sharply against O’Malley and come out to vote against him in huge numbers next year. That will likely happen only if 2010 sees a disastrous performance by the incumbent Governor.


It’s ironic that the top fundraiser in Blue Maryland’s history is a Republican: Bob Ehrlich, of course. He outraised both of his Democratic rivals for Governor in 2002 and 2006 by a combined $6.1 million.

Could it happen today?
Maybe not. Governor O’Malley has been working the fundraising circuit hard, going as far as New York City and Miami Beach to search for money. And that’s not all: a recent O’Malley fundraiser in Potomac took in over $175,000. O’Malley had a campaign fund balance of $1,004,836.66 last January. He will have WAY more than that next month.

But Ehrlich does not need to outraise O’Malley. As a former Governor, Ehrlich’s name recognition is close to O’Malley’s. The last Gonzales poll showed that only 6% of Marylanders had not heard of Ehrlich while 2% had not heard of O’Malley. Ehrlich is confident that he can raise $10-12 million if he runs in 2010, a similar total to O’Malley’s 2006 take of $13.9 million. We agree with Ehrlich on this point: money will not be his problem. Rank-and-file Republicans want O’Malley gone yesterday. Many people in the business community detest O’Malley for his tax hikes (especially in the top income tax brackets) and his populist rhetoric. All of them will pay dearly for a real chance of dethroning the incumbent, and that will give Ehrlich all the resources he needs.

We’ll continue our analysis in Part Four.