By GRAHAM MOOMAW
WASHINGTON (Jan. 21, 2010) - Although Maryland voters are most concerned about the troubled economy and health care, a new poll shows that attitude isn't translating into a dramatic backlash against the state's top Democrats—a scenario played out in Tuesday's Massachusetts Senate race.
Republican Senator-elect Scott Brown's stunning victory over Democrat Martha Coakley has led to speculation that other Democrats around the country might be headed for a similar fate.
A survey of Maryland voters conducted last week by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies and released Wednesday found that approval ratings for top Democrats in Maryland dipped slightly since September but have held relatively steady overall.
The results give little indication that previously safe Maryland Democrats are headed into the same sort of perilous territory that shocked Coakley.
Gov. Martin O'Malley received a 46 percent approval rating, down from 48 percent in September but within the margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. The report accompanying the poll results called O'Malley's rating, "lower than an incumbent would prefer 10 months before an election."
In a potential gubernatorial matchup with former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich, O'Malley holds an advantage of 48 percent to Ehrlich's 39 percent. Another 13 percent say they are undecided. Those numbers are virtually unchanged from last September.
Maryland voters continue to point to the economy as their top concern, with more than a third saying their family's financial situation is worse today than a year ago, according to the poll.
The survey found that 54 percent of likely voters say the economy is the most important issue facing the state, up from 43 percent last September.
Health care came in second place, with 11 percent of voters naming it the most important issue.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore, is enjoying a 64 percent approval rating as she begins this year's re-election bid. Those numbers, plus more than $2 million stashed in Mikulski's campaign war chest, put her in a strong position heading into the 2010 election.
President Obama's approval numbers in the state dropped 24 percentage points to 56 percent since January's inauguration, but that's still higher than recent national polls.
The continued public support for O'Malley, Mikulski and Obama could be explained partly by optimism that the economy is turning around.
According to the poll, 42 percent of Marylanders think economic conditions in the state will be better a year from now. By comparison, 23 percent think conditions will be worse in a year and 35 percent think they will stay the same.
Gonzales Research conducted telephone interviews with 816 registered Maryland voters who are likely to vote in the 2010 election.
Laslo Boyd, a partner at Gonzales Research, said that while the number of voters who listed the economy as their top concern is dramatic, especially considering the fact that it was presented as an open-ended question, the steady poll numbers for Maryland Democrats lead to a less-than-shocking conclusion.
"That largely tells you," Boyd said, "that Maryland is a very Democratic state."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.