A survey of Maryland voters last week found that despite his campaign's financial advantage, Rep. Chris Van Hollen has only a slight lead over Rep. Donna Edwards as the two Democrats vie for their party’s nomination to replace outgoing Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in an April primary.
The poll, conducted by the Maryland firm Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies, shows Edwards might be seeing "dividends" from the $1 million television advertising campaign paid for her by EMILY’s List that has targeted Baltimore, home to about half of the state's Democratic electorate, the pollster wrote.
"The more voters hear about Donna Edwards, the more they know she's a voice that's desperately needed in the U.S. Senate at exactly the right time," said Mary Stetch, a spokeswoman for EMILY's List, a group whose mission is to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. She said the "ads have shown, Donna's been taking on the tough fights her entire career — and she's not backing down anytime soon."
The EMILY's List ad campaign in Baltimore ended just before the latest survey was taken and showed Edwards leading Van Hollen, 50 percent to 24 percent there, with about a fifth of the voters still undecided. At the same time, Edwards is trailing Van Hollen in the city's suburbs by 16 points, where more than 37 percent of voters remained undecided as the race entered its final 100 days.
Both candidates are leading on their home turf — Van Hollen in Montgomery County and Edwards in Prince George's County, places featuring contests of their own for the congressional seats both are vacating. Both campaigns have said they believe Baltimore, which will hold a hotly contested mayoral election on the same day of the April 26 primary, will be the ground on which the battle is fought.
Across the state, the survey, which polled 819 registered voters and took place from Jan. 11-16, showed Van Hollen leading Edwards 38 percent to 36 percent — well within the poll’s 3.5 point margin of error. According to the poll, 24 percent of voters remain undecided.
"We're pleased that Chris Van Hollen has maintained his lead, despite the million-dollar blitz of super PAC advertising," said Van Hollen spokeswoman Bridgett Frey, referring to the EMILY's List spending. "We're confident that voters are looking for his effective, progressive leadership that gets things done for Maryland families."
Van Hollen's campaign, boosted by the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's fundraising strength, will likely have the financial resources to compete on its own in the air war in Baltimore, but Edwards' own ability to purchase large amounts of ad time is still in question. Her previous campaign finance reports have shown she has struggled to raise money and has instead relied on the support of outside help from groups such as EMILY's list.
Instead, Edwards has gotten herself on the radar of voters in another way. She has earned media attention in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs for weighing in on issues such as law enforcement's relationship with minority communities. Just last week, Edwards made headlines for her meeting with Deray McKesson, a Maryland native and a prominent leader of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, who has a large online following. That followed an op-ed earlier this month in which she accused the media of treating armed, mostly white ranchers and activists who took over a federal facility in Oregon differently than black protesters.
Yokley can be reached at EliYokley@RollCall.com and on Twitter @EYokley. Related: Edwards Touts Poll Showing Lead Over Van Hollen Edwards Shakes Off Van Hollen’s Outside Money Pledge How Elijah Cummings Could Shake Up Maryland’s Senate Race Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.