Photo by Joe Andrucyk, via Wikimedia Commons

A new survey of Maryland voters reaffirms something we already know: Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has a solid approval rating heading into his re-election campaign. However, the numbers also show he’s vulnerable to Democratic challengers in a head-to-head scenario.

The survey from Mason-Dixon Polling clocks Hogan’s job approval at 61 percent, just one point shy of the rating from the most recent Goucher Poll. The D.C.-based firm spoke with 625 registered Maryland voters from Sept. 27-30, with a 4 percent margin of error.

The Goucher Poll also found Maryland Democrats are pretty undecided on who they’d like to be their candidate for governor. The Mason-Dixon poll found similarly lukewarm results. Twenty-eight percent of Dems said they’d pick Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz was second with 11 percent and ex-NAACP president Ben Jealous was third at 10 percent. Forty-six percent said they couldn’t decide.

But interestingly, Hogan didn’t score a majority of hypothetical votes when facing off against any of those three candidates. For example, if Baker wins the Democratic nomination, the poll says Hogan would have 46 percent of the vote, compared to 39 percent for Baker. Kamenetz would score 35 percent of the vote, versus Hogan’s 48 percent. Jealous would have 33 percent to Hogan’s 49 percent. Additionally, state Sen. Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat, would score 30 percent against Hogan’s 49 percent.

What makes this significant is an old rule for polling that indicates incumbent candidates – those already holding office – who poll with less than 50 percent of the vote before Election Day are at a significantly higher risk of losing their jobs. The Mason-Dixon Polling survey called this the “safe” zone.

(Note: FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver wrote in 2010 that this rule is a bit shoddy when looking at congressional polling races from the 2000’s. RealClearPolitics’ Sean Trende countered that Silver’s analysis excluded a number of races supporting the “incumbent rule.” You can read their number-crunching wisdom and decide for yourself.)

If you do honor old-school polling wisdom, Hogan doesn’t seem as safe against any of his Democratic challengers as he might appear at first glance. Add in the fact that Maryland is a blue-majority state and that Democrats might actually build some collective enthusiasm for one of their eight declared candidates, and we could have ourselves a race next year.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...