Undecideds, independents could be key to Md. governor’s race

WASHINGTON — Maryland’s undecided and independent voters have a lot of leverage in the upcoming election for governor, and here’s why: A recent Baltimore Sun poll puts Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, a Democrat, ahead of Republican Larry Hogan by 7 points, but the margin of error is 3.5 percent.

Most importantly, the poll suggests that Brown’s support is soft, and that there are lots of voters who simply haven’t made up their minds. And when it comes to issues at the top of voters’ minds, the suggestion is taxes and the economy are at the forefront.

Hogan, who has made taxes a priority, may gain traction among those undecided and independents. Hogan says it’s clear that Brown’s feeling the heat, since Brown pledged not to raise taxes if elected governor. At the Bethesda Farmer’s Market on Sunday, Brown explained his new pledge by saying that Maryland voters “stepped up” and “invested” in the state during the recession. Brown said, “Marylanders have protected investments in schools and in safe neighborhoods, and now we’re looking to provide Marylanders with some relief.”

Hogan calls the Brown pledge not to raise taxes “a last-minute conversion” and says voters are telling him they’ve never voted for a Republican before, but they plan to this year. When it comes to taxes, Hogan says of the lieutenant governor, “He just doesn’t have a lot of credibility on this issue.”

What are voters saying?

At the market where Brown talked to merchants and shoppers alike, Michelle Dressner said she has not made up her mind who will get her vote.

“Since I choose not to identify with a party, I look at the candidates individually and their stances on issues that I feel are important for the state of Maryland.” She’s precisely the kind of voter who strikes fear into the hearts of front-runners and offers hope to underdogs.

What are key issues for her?

“I look at taxes and I look at schools.” Could Hogan, who’s made rolling back tax increases a priority, get her vote? “Well, I’m an economist,” Dressner says; “I look at taxes slightly differently.” She explains what matters to her is how and where the money is spent. “I’ll need to look at their policy more deeply before I decide.”

At the same farmer’s market, 18-year-old Madison Sharp, of Silver Spring, said women’s issues and community building are important to her. But, like Dressner, she said she’s still researching the candidates. “I’m definitely leaning towards Brown, but I feel like I haven’t done enough reading to make a firm decision.”

The Baltimore Sun poll by Opinion Works found that Brown has solid support among African-Americans and strong support among young voters. Sharp is both African-American and young, but the same poll points out young voters don’t always turn out on Election Day. Sharp says she’ll definitely be voting: She’s a political science major and made sure to get her absentee ballot. She’s just not sure who’s ultimately going to win her support just yet.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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