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Mfume, O’Malley Lead 2006 Democratic Pack for Md. Senate, Poll Shows

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume are running neck and neck in a new independent poll on the 2006 Maryland Senate Democratic primary, with Rep. Benjamin Cardin close behind.

The poll, which asked 402 likely Democratic primary voters to choose among three possible contenders in the event that Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) does not seek re-election next year, found O’Malley preferred by 26 percent of those surveyed, Mfume favored by 24 percent, and Cardin the choice of 20 percent. The remainder of those questioned were undecided.

The poll, released today, was conducted Jan. 3-8 by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies of Annapolis and had a 5 percent margin of error.

Sarbanes, who is already the longest serving Senator in Maryland history, has not said whether he will seek a sixth term in 2006, when he will be 73 years old. If he does run, he will be “very well positioned” for re-election, the pollsters found, with 56 percent of the Democrats surveyed saying that they would vote to re-elect him. Only 10 percent said they would vote to replace Sarbanes, while 34 percent said they would consider someone else.

The Democratic Senate nomination may be tantamount to re-election in 2006, as Republicans have no obvious strong contender. Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is the first choice of the GOP, but he is almost certain to seek re-election in 2006 with an eye toward running for governor four years later.

If Sarbanes doesn’t run, the Democratic race to replace him could become fierce.

Mfume, a former Congressman from Baltimore, is seen as likely to return to electoral politics following his recent resignation from the NAACP. O’Malley, who is gearing up to run for governor in 2006, is certain to take a look at a Senate race if Sarbanes retires. And Cardin has been eyeing statewide office for decades.

Cardin held a significant edge in the Baltimore region, where he has been an officeholder for almost 40 years. He was the choice of 38 percent of the voters there, followed by Mfume with 29 percent and O’Malley with 24 percent. Only 9 percent of the region’s voters were undecided.

O’Malley held a 2-point edge over Mfume in the Washington, D.C., area and a substantial lead over both potential opponents in the rest of the state. The number of undecided voters in those regions, however, was more than 40 percent.

But several other Democrats who were not included in the survey could also run. Rep. Albert Wynn has signaled his interest in a Senate race if Sarbanes retires. And Democratic Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Elijah Cummings are also thought to harbor Senate ambitions.

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