By Andy Metzger


STATE HOUSE, BOSTON -- Martha Coakley, the state's attorney general, has maintained her frontrunner position in the Massachusetts governor's race polling, with the latest survey showing her beating Republican Charlie Baker in a hypothetical matchup.

Coakley was favorable to 53 percent of the 503 registered voters surveyed by MassINC in mid-January, edging Gov. Deval Patrick's 52 percent favorability and beating Baker's 32 percent favorability and that of her nearest Democratic rival, Steven Grossman, the state treasurer, whose favorability was 22 percent.

Nearly everyone has heard of Coakley, who lost a U.S. Senate race to Scott Brown in 2010, and all but 15 percent said they have a positive or negative impression of her.

"Voters know that Martha has fought for them on key issues that they care about but what they look at is action and not polls," Coakley campaign manager Tim Foley said in a statement. "That is why Martha is focused on building a strong grassroots campaign, meeting as many voters as possible in every corner of the state, and talking about her goal to create a more prosperous and fairer Commonwealth."

With 28 percent of voters viewing Coakley unfavorably, she was second only to Patrick, whose un-favorability clocked in at 38 percent. Neither Baker nor Grossman cracked 15 percent in the unfavorable column, and the rest of the governor's race candidates were largely unknown to the poll takers.


Baker, the 2010 Republican nominee, bested all the other Democrats in hypothetical matchups, a change from an early October Western New England University poll that showed Grossman beating Baker 43-30. The latest poll had Baker besting Grossman 33-23.

"I am confident that once the people of Massachusetts know me as the only lifelong progressive job creator in this field, we win the primary and go on to defeat Charlie Baker in November," Grossman said in a statement.

Baker also started to close the gap with Coakley, losing 39-29 in the latest poll compared to 54-34 in the October poll. The former state budget chief and health insurance industry executive was more widely known in the latest poll too, after 56 percent of respondents to the Western New England poll said they didn't know Baker.

"While this is the start of a long race and only one of many polls to come, it appears Charlie's positive vision and record of hands-on leadership is starting to resonate with voters," Baker spokesman Tim Buckley said in a statement.

UMass Boston political science professor Maurice Cunningham said the poll indicates voters have not faulted Coakley for her stumbles, including campaign finance irregularities that prompted the state Republican Party to launch a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

"It's a testament to name recognition and how little the public pays attention to things that obsess [us] political types," Cunningham told the News Service. He said, "More depends on what's going on in those caucuses."

Democratic caucuses begin Feb. 8, and the election of delegates will be a key for the three lesser known candidates to win 15 percent of the vote in the June nominating convention, a threshold they must achieve to secure a place on the fall ballot.

"I think all three of those lesser known Democrats are pretty good," Cunningham said. He said, "For any of them, it's a really steep hill."

The Republican caucuses began Jan. 11. Mark Fisher, a Shrewsbury Republican, is seeking to challenge the better known Baker on the GOP primary ballot.

Just ahead of Patrick's fiscal year 2015 budget filing, the poll commissioned by WBUR found the voting public divided on Patrick's handling of the Annie Dookhan state crime lab debacle, the Department of Children and Families' failure to monitor the whereabouts of a now-missing 5-year-old boy, and a botched rollout of the state's new Health Connector website.

Now into his eighth and final year, Patrick received a 53-39 percent approval rating, in general. The majority of respondents said they were following the DCF and Dookhan stories, while about half the respondents said they were monitoring the Health Connector story not closely or not at all.

Overall, 46 percent of the respondents believed the state is going in the right direction, while 38 percent believe it's on the wrong track. Democrats made up 36 percent of the respondents and Republicans made up 11 percent. The margin of error was 4.4 percent, and the respondents were 81 percent white, with 34 percent receiving a high school degree or less education, and 43 percent completing college or reporting an advanced degree.

People who viewed Baker favorably were split on their view of the state's direction, while people who favored Grossman and Coakley were generally in favor of the direction of the state. Baker ran squarely against Patrick in 2010 with his slogan of "had enough" and has said he will run a more "enthusiastic" campaign this time around.

Both Coakley and Grossman received some cross-party support, with a little more than 25 percent of people from the opposing party reporting a favorable view of them. Grossman received 8 percent favorability from Republican respondents.

After the big three candidates, independent candidate and investor Jeff McCormick had the next-highest favorability rating at 9 percent. Democrats Joe Avellone, Don Berwick and Juliette Kayyem, along with Fisher, a Republican, and independent Evan Falchuk did not crack 5 percent favorability. Nearly all of the other candidates are unknown to at least 75 percent of voters.

Kayyem, a former Boston Globe columnist and homeland security official, had the highest recognition at about 26 percent, while Berwick, President Barack Obama's acting chief of Medicare and Medicaid, was known by fewer than 10 percent of the voters surveyed. At Democratic events, Berwick has notes that the divisive pundit Glenn Beck called him "the second most dangerous man in America."

As the Massachusetts Gaming Commission embarks on the final stages of licensing a slot parlor and casinos in western and eastern Massachusetts, the respondents were 53-39 in favor of the 2011 law, which allows for up to three casinos in three different regions.