The first real poll

Yesterday the latest Maryland Poll from Gonzales Research came out (h/t Maryland Reporter), and it suggests that we have a long way to go in educating the voters of this state about the real facts at hand. But there are a few encouraging signs, I suppose.

In the nine months since a similar sampling in January, we can now determine that Barack Obama’s job approval has gone down six points in the topline, from 64% to 58%. But the difference between “strongly approve” and “strongly disapprove” has plummeted in that span: it was +19.4 in January but is now just +6.7. A 13-point swing in that demographic suggests the national economic situation of an ongoing sluggish “recovery” is taking its toll.

By the same token, the 54% job approval Martin O’Malley enjoyed in January was a mirage, too. O’Malley now finds himself in a statistical dead heat, with 48% approval and disapproval in the October poll. But that difference between “strongly approve’ and “strongly disapprove” has once again moved more than the six-point decline on the topline, going from a +0.2 in January to a (-15.1) now. That’s an even more pronounced 15-point swing not shown by a 6 point drop in the headlines. Tellingly, nearly 3 of 10 Democrats now disapprove of O’Malley.

But that doesn’t seem to reflect on Anthony Brown, who leads the first non-campaign poll by a fairly similar margin to the Garin-Hart-Yang poll released by Brown’s campaign last month. The Maryland Poll has Anthony Brown/Ken Ulman at 41%, Doug Gansler/Jolene Ivey at 21%, and Heather Mizeur at 5%. (Maybe she can have Wayne Gilchrest as a running mate. As an aside, Mizeur also got the endorsement of Salisbury City Council member Laura Mitchell.)

Unfortunately, the numbers trend the wrong way on some key issues. While 49% of Marylanders polled favored the death penalty and 44% opposed it in January, those numbers are now reversed in that 49% favor the law rescinding it and 44% said no. Then again, its support was rather soft all along because it had a strong approve/strong disapprove ratio of (-3.2) in January while the repeal now has a +5.5 ratio. In part, this is probably because of the state’s reluctance to use the death penalty and the over-sensationalized Kirk Bloodsworth case. However, I would wager that if you put a name and a victim to a case (e.g. Thomas Leggs and Sarah Foxwell) the support for rescinding the death penalty repeal declines drastically. (In that case, Leggs pled guilty to avoid the death penalty, while the family agreed because of the probability of endless appeals.)

Meanwhile, those who responded to the poll must have believed the onerous gun laws passed by Martin O’Malley and Democrats would actually curb crime. When asked in January, support for an assault weapons ban in the immediate wake of Sandy Hook was 58-40 (with a +17.5 intensity of strongly support/strongly oppose), while background checks passed muster by an 88-11 figure overall. But the gun law as passed maintained its 58-40 support (with only a slightly lower +16.7 intensity.) That, my friends, is a sadly bamboozled and gullible public.

Yet when it comes to the pocketbook, people get it. When asked whether a 10 cent per gallon gasoline tax was acceptable in January, just 26% favored in with 73% opposed. The intensity of opposition was just as stiff, with a factor of (-50.8) strong approve/strong disapprove.

So now that the reality of a 21 cent per gallon increase spread out over three years has smacked Free Staters in the pocketbook, they hate it even more. 22 percent approve of the tax hike, while 76 percent oppose it. Intensity remains as strong, at a factor of (-50.7). Most telling to me is that the Democrats don’t tout it as a success.

Knowing that, where do we go from here? It appears to me that the emotional appeals of Democrats have worked on the above non-fiscal issues because those polled are probably not affected – the chances are small that someone knows a person who’s been heinously murdered by someone who would receive the death penalty, and for those who do too many are blaming the tool used for the victim’s demise.

I can sit and stare at a gun with a 30-round magazine all day, but as long as I don’t pick up the weapon and make the physical motion to fire it, the gun is inert and harmless. Thousands of Marylanders have access to a gun, most have never fired it outside the confines of a closed gun range. Those who use the tool of a handgun otherwise are more often than not breaking enough laws already that the so-called Firearm Safety Act of 2013 won’t prevent them from carrying out their mayhem. However, another person with a weapon just might.

Someone out there probably collects the rare news stories of crimes prevented by the presence of a gun, but the narrative of “if it bleeds, it leads” plays into the hands of those who would usurp our Second Amendment rights. Yet if the hapless victim of random violence had his or her own weapon, things may have played out differently. Instead, the state is placing a burden on those who simply wish to defend themselves, and I thought government was supposed to be about empowerment. That’s what liberals tell me, anyway.

Liberals like Anthony Brown, Doug Gansler, and Heather Mizeur.

And by the way, where is the Republican poll? I think the Gonzales pollsters have fallen into the same “one-party state” trap Doug Gansler did. I’d like to see something more scientific than a blog poll on that race.

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Since I didn’t get a GO Friday feature this week, I added my own two cents as I told you I would. This place doesn’t go dark.

But if you want to be considered for GO Friday next week, just let me know.

The Leggs legacy

As most of my local readers know – unless they’ve just crawled out from under a rock seconds before they read this piece – Thomas Leggs confessed to killing Sarah Foxwell in 2009 as part of a plea deal which spared him the death penalty.

The reaction to this development seems to be one of bitter disbelief, but I’m going to look at this from a political standpoint. We have to fast forward to 2014, when both Wicomico County State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello and Sheriff Mike Lewis will presumably once again face the voters. If that comes to pass, Maciarello would be seeking a second term and Lewis a third.

Obviously the key question is: how long will voters’ memories be? Ramming through a series of tax increases in the first year of his term didn’t seem to hurt Martin O’Malley in 2010 as he defeated Bob Ehrlich for the second straight time and by a wider margin. But local elections are a little different.

We also have to assume that the Democratic Party won’t be in the historically bad straits they were in 2010. As it so happens, several of their existing longtime officeholders may decide not to seek another term so it’s worth believing that they will fill out ballot spaces three years hence – it’s doubtful Mike Lewis will get a free ride for sheriff next time, for example. Maciarello is already vulnerable, with some observers believing he got a great gift in the campaign with Davis Ruark losing a bitter primary fight on the Democratic side. (If Ruark were to try again, he would have to re-establish his registration as a Democrat; I believe he’s switched to unaffiliated since the election.) And surely there are a number of ambitious Democrat lawyers for what would be an open nomination process without Ruark.

Moreover, while Matt laid out his reasoning for taking the plea deal, many who demanded more will feel sold out. Certainly it will be an issue resurrected in 2014 by the Democratic candidate, whoever he or she is. Trust me.

On the other hand, Mike Lewis could be blamed if later digging reveals a weak evidence chain. However, the fallout shouldn’t be as severe for him as it will be for Maciarello – that will bring a sigh of relief to the local GOP brass.

Yet there is one more person affected, and while he’s not exactly political he’s claimed to bring a lot of influence to the local political scene in the past. Why, it was way back in the 2006 campaign where one candidate claiming that local blogs were a “cancer” on the political scene placed him squarely in the limelight. I bet he found that spotlight a trifle harsh today after this diatribe.

Of course, he defended himself from the accusations – but who’s really going to write that book?

So it’s the classic case of he said/she said. Yet Joe Albero could come out of this with the popularity he so craves. While Roberta Wechsler stated a good case in her portion of the press conference, she laid it on way too thick and in a tone that was far too vindictive to a point where some may not take it seriously – certainly Matt Maciarello was caught off guard. Meanwhile, if the case goes to court guess who gets more publicity?

There’s no question that Albero has taken far too much advantage of what has been a tragic situation hanging over Delmarva’s head for the last 15 months – in fact I daresay this case took him away from what he used to do best, which was a somewhat passable version of investigative journalism. Sure, he used it just to take on his enemies but there were things which needed to be said and he said them.

But the bright lights of national attention stemming from the Foxwell case were going to be his ticket to respectability. I recall the frequent citation of Alexa numbers and claims to be ‘mainstream media’ in the immediate aftermath of the search for Sarah but both have faded from the front pages of his site. Certainly he’ll get a bounce from this latest development, but can he keep the audience or have we just seen another patented Albero trainwreck in living color? Only time will tell.

One may ask where this affects me. I didn’t follow the Foxwell story developments closely within these pages, choosing to allow others to do so. My beat is politics, which is why I started this post writing on the speculative angle.

But just like the case in 2006 with Ron Alessi, I know that this saga will affect all of us who toil daily trying to write useful content to a local or regional audience. Having that laundry list of accusations thrown at one Salisbury blogger is sure to reflect on the rest of us and it diminishes our influence.

I have used the content of my site – words I stand behind and would stack up against any other journalist in the media – to get other writing jobs, including Liberty Features Syndicate and the national website Pajamas Media. Certainly in some aspects I exist in a vacuum insofar as someone looking here on a national level isn’t going to care much about my so-called local competition. But I’ve found about 2/3 of my audience resides in the state of Maryland and half of that is local. A casual observer who goes to Joe’s site and is repelled by what he reads may not be as likely to give me or the rest of us locals a shot. There are some talented writers about, and others who make a good run at it. And while ads on monoblogue don’t bring me a lot of revenue – although I’m always willing to sell space – this effect can take food out of my mouth. (Maybe I don’t need that much to eat anyway, but the point remains.)

If Matt Maciarello and Mike Lewis aren’t reelected in 2014, it’s pretty likely they can find regular jobs in the private sector. We local bloggers have a little more difficult time rebuilding an audience when our reputation is tarnished from without, through no fault of our own.

Someday we will be far enough removed from the Foxwell saga that it will lie on the fringes of our collective memory. Thomas Leggs will rot in prison, probably never tasting another breath of freedom the rest of his days. But the words we write and the electronic images we make will live on for awhile. My fear is that our history will be defined by a man described as the leader of a ‘cultlike’ following while the truth is forgotten.

The winners write the history, so we have to make sure the truth ends up on the winning side.