Dream Act backers confident in waning days -- Gazette.Net



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Buoyed by recent polls, supporters of Maryland’s Dream Act are confident of victory at the polls next week, but the campaign still plans an advertising and canvassing blitz in the final days.

“Polling has consistently shown that we’re in a good position,” said Kristin Ford, spokeswoman for Educating Maryland Kids, the coalition campaigning to uphold the law.

“We have such a high level of strong support that even if the numbers are off a bit, even if all the undecideds vote against [the Dream Act], it won’t be enough to change the outcome.”

Still, Dream Act legislation, enacted in 11 states, has never been tested in a popular vote, leaving at least an element of doubt.

“It’s hard to tell,” John Bambacus, professor of political science at Frostburg State University, said of recent poll results showing strong support.

“Maryland’s [Question 4] is complicated. Some people have no idea there’s a process a person has to go through [to qualify for in-state tuition]. There seems to be a lack of understanding.”

That lack of understanding, Bambacus said, could go either way when voters fill out their ballots.

Question 4 asks voters whether they support the Maryland Dream Act, which would allow some undocumented students — who graduate from Maryland public high schools and whose parents have filed state income tax returns for three years — to attend community college and state universities at in-state tuition rates, which are much less expensive than nonresident rates.

The General Assembly passed the Dream Act in 2011, but opponents initiated a petition drive to force the issue onto the ballot.

The most recent poll, released this week by Goucher College, shows 57 percent of Marylanders support the measure, and an October Washington Post poll showed support at 59 percent. Other polls have pegged support at 58 percent and 60 percent.

Campaign finance reports show that Educating Maryland Kids has spent about $1 million total on, TV, radio and online advertising, with another $188,000 available for a final push.

Ford said the group will be saturating media markets in Baltimore and the Washington, D.C., region for the next few days.

One of the ads, which came out Thursday and will run online, features President Barack Obama discussing an administration policy announced in June to temporarily stop deporting some undocumented students who came to the U.S. as children.

The ad draws on support of Obama in Maryland and highlights that the president supports opportunities for undocumented students, Ford said.

Some, however, question the impact of most of the ads.

“I don’t think ads have a tremendous effect, especially in such matters when people have such a clear position on whether a person should be in the country illegally,” said Richard Vatz, a professor of political rhetoric at Towson University.

The exception, he said, is when ads use what he calls reluctant testimony, like that from Baltimore County Republican businessman John Hawks, who cut a TV ad for Education Maryland Kids.

Ford said that besides the ads, the group has a “really robust grass-roots campaign,” with canvassers expected to go out in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, as well as Baltimore city.

Brad Botwin, director of Help Save Maryland, a non-profit group opposed to the Dream Act, said he is leery of the poll results. Some voters, especially blacks, will determine that the cost of sending undocumented students to college at lower tuition rates is too expensive, he said.

“They’ve been inundated with this message of [the Dream Act] is so great, and it’s the next civil rights issue,” Botwin said. “When they wake up to the fact that they’re getting their pockets picked, that will change. We have no money for schools, but we can spend money on this?”

Polls have shown that support for the Dream Act among blacks in Maryland is higher than in the general population by more than 10 percentage points.

MDPetitions.com, a group working to defeat the Dream Act and a congressional district map, has spent about $33,000 on direct-mail campaigns. The group has no cash on hand, and has not run and is not planning to air any TV ads.

“We’ve got a big ground game,” said Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Dist. 7) of Middlesex, who is involved with MDPetitions.com. “We’re handing out ballots at all the polls, and remember we’ve got those 132,000 signatures from the petition [to get the Dream Act on the ballot].”

hnunn@gazette.net