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Campaign 2020

Politicsby Mark Reutter5:57 pmFeb 24, 20200

Exclusive: New poll shows Dixon breaking out of the pack

The voter survey finds definite movements – up and down – among Baltimore’s mayoral hopefuls

Above: Baltimore’s City Hall from Holliday Street. (Mark Reutter)

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon is gaining traction in Baltimore’s fractured mayoral race, while Thiru Vignarajah and incumbent Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young are sinking.

A new February 2020 poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group, shows that Dixon’s main challenger is City Council President Brandon Scott, who is within striking distance of her lead.

The poll, obtained by The Brew, was commissioned by the Scott campaign.

In a seven-way primary contest, 20% of likely Democratic Party voters said they would vote for Dixon.

Following her was Scott (16%), T.J. Smith (13%), Young (11%), Vignarajah (11%), Mary Washington (9%) and Mary Miller (2%).

The poll does not disclose how many likely voters were contacted for the survey or what exact dates it was conducted. It notes a margin of error of 4.9%.

UPDATE: The Scott campaign tonight released the poll, disclosing it was a survey of 401 likely Democratic primary voters between February 6 and 10.

In a statement, Scott campaign manager Marvin James said the poll “gives a very clear indication about Baltimore’s future. Voters are tired of the status quo, 70% say they are upset with the way things are going. Returning to unethical, failed leadership is not an option.”

Sheila Dixon announces her candidacy for mayor on December 14, 2019. (Fern Shen)

Sheila Dixon announces her candidacy in December at a West Baltimore community center. (Fern Shen)

17% Undecided

With the primary still two months away and 17% of likely voters still undecided, the race is fluid and subject to ups and downs, as recently demonstrated by Vignarajah.

In a poll taken for Fox 45 in late December, the former city and federal prosecutor was in first place, ever-so-slightly ahead of Scott.

Back then, Vignarajah had 18.2% of the vote compared to 17.9% for Scott.

Dixon, who had recently entered the race, trailed at 15.7%. Young was at 15% and Smith at 11%.

The latest poll indicates that support for Vignarajah has dropped sharply, Dixon and Smith have advanced, Young has stumbled and Scott has stayed relatively stable.

Favorability Ratings

In its analysis for the Scott campaign, Global Strategy argues that the City Council president is well positioned to overtake Dixon, whose candidacy it describes as “highly polarizing” among voters.

Scott’s favorability rating (56% favorable, 20% unfavorable) is the best of any of the top contenders, the report says. It compares to Dixon (41% favorable, 46% unfavorable) and Young (42% favorable, 45% unfavorable).

“As City Council president, Scott boasts a strong job rating (67% positive, 17% negative, while Mayor Young is underwater (40% positive, 53% negative)” is one of the report’s key findings.

Mayor Jack Young speaks today about July 4th holiday preparations in the Inner Harbor. To his right is City Council President – and potential mayoral rival – Brandon Scott. (Mark Reutter)

Mayor Jack Young speaks about July 4th holiday preparations last summer. At his side is Council President Brandon Scott. (Mark Reutter)

Core Support

The core of Dixon’s base is black women, which represents 45% of the Democratic electorate in Baltimore.

Since it conducted its last survey in March 2019 based on a hypothetical group of candidates, Global Strategy says the percentage of black women who view Dixon “very favorably” has dropped from 44% to 25%.

It does not offer an explanation for the decline except to say that “the intensity of negative attitudes towards Dixon has increased significantly” since former Mayor Catherine Pugh was convicted of federal corruption charges.

Scott’s profile, meanwhile, is described as “broadly appealing” among primary voters, especially among ages 18-34.

“When presented with a positive profile of Scott, 43% say they would trust a candidate with his profile ‘a lot’ – compared with 27% for a profile of Vignarajah, 23% for Miller and 20% for Young,” the report says.

Sheila Dixon: “I was successful at what I did, even though that mistake happened” (12/16/19)


Dixon resigned as mayor 10 years ago (February 4, 2010) after being convicted of stealing gift cards intended for the poor. She ran again in 2016, narrowly losing to Pugh.

In recent campaigning, Dixon has asked voters for forgiveness and a “second chance.”

The 66-year-old veteran politician, who currently works as marketing director for the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, argues that her experience makes her the right person to steer Baltimore through a sustained wave of street violence and instability at City Hall.

Scott, Smith, Vignarajah and Young are all campaigning as crime fighters in the face of 348 homicides last year – second only to the number recorded in 1993 when the city had 125,000 more residents.

Vignarajah’s credibility took a hit when news broke that he had been stopped last September by police for driving late at night without his headlights on and while his car’s registration was suspended.

It emerged from a report by independent journalist Justine Barron that Vignarajah had asked a police sergeant to turn off his body camera, which did not record his interactions with police for about two minutes. Eventually, Vignarajah was given a warning and allowed to drive his car home.

Candidate T.J. Smith, at a mayoral forum in Lauraville. (Ian Round)

T.J. Smith at a mayoral forum in Lauraville last week. (Ian Round)

The Smith Surprise

Vignarajah’s loss of support appears, at least partially, to have boosted the fortunes of longshot-aspirant Smith.

The former spokesman for the Baltimore Police climbed to third place in the Global Strategy poll despite minimal campaign funds and few supporting staff.

It’s a political truism that incumbents have a built-in advantage, but Young so far has demonstrated the opposite.

Despite possessing the biggest campaign war chest ($959,333 on hand in early January), the mayor is not stacking up well against either Dixon’s bloc of female voters or Scott’s popularity among the younger electorate.

Winner Takes All

Whomever wins the Democratic primary on April 28, the rewards are crystal clear:

He or she will become Baltimore’s next mayor.

With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by a 10-1 margin, the party’s nominee is a shoo-in the November general election and will be sworn into office in December 2020.

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