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Attorney General Martha Coakley maintains a solid lead in a gubernatorial race that appears to be making little impression on Massachusetts voters, according to a new WBUR poll.
Coakley leads her closest Democratic competition, Treasurer Steve Grossman, 45 to 14 percent in a primary match-up. She has a 41 to 26 percent edge on the leading Republican, Charlie Baker, in a head-to-head contest.
But at this early stage in the race, broad swaths of the electorate know little about most of the candidates.
"I think a poll, you know, in March of an election year is really a reflection of name recognition," said Peter Ubertaccio, a political scientist and director of the Joseph Martin Institute for Law & Society at Stonehill College.
The poll of 500 likely voters conducted by MassINC (topline, crosstabs) shows 94 percent of voters are familiar with Coakley, a two-term attorney general who lost a high-profile U.S. Senate race to Republican Scott Brown in 2010.
Six in 10 voters know Grossman and 74 percent are familiar with Baker.
Three-quarters of voters have never heard of three other Democratic candidates for governor — homeland security expert Juliette Kayyem, former Obama administration health care official Donald Berwick and biopharmaceutical research firm executive Joseph Avellone.
Independents Jeff McCormick and Evan Falchuk are not well-known either.
The numbers in the March survey are largely unchanged from a WBUR poll in January.
At the moment, the Democratic race is largely focused on party activists, who will gather for the Democratic state convention in June. Candidates must win the support of 15 percent of convention delegates to qualify for the primary ballot in September.
Grossman has been taking shots at Coakley in recent weeks, suggesting she's shifted positions and is not sufficiently liberal to be the Democratic nominee.
The message may appeal to the party insiders who will gather for the convention in Worcester, but it does not seem to be having any impact on the broader electorate.
Coakley's early strength is rooted, in part, in a strong showing among women. She leads Grossman 47 to 10 percent among women in a Democratic primary match-up and has a 44 to 20 percent edge over Baker.
The women's vote has been critical in recent Massachusetts elections. Baker lost women by 24 points in his 2010 challenge to Gov. Deval Patrick, according to a post-election poll.
"I would like to see Martha get the job for a couple of reasons -- because I think she's the most qualified and also to finally break the glass ceiling here," said poll respondent Cecilia Taney, an unemployed saleswoman from North Andover, in a follow-up interview.
Jane Swift served as acting governor from 2001 to 2003 after former Gov. Paul Cellucci left office to serve as ambassador to Canada. But the state has never elected a woman to the corner office.
Coakley bests Baker among male voters by a narrower margin, 39 to 33 percent. And the GOP candidate has a large lead among Republicans like poll respondent Stephen O'Rourke, president of a small consulting firm in Somerset that focuses on strategic planning and organizational assessment.
O'Rourke says Coakley strikes him as too liberal. But he adds that he knows little about many of the candidates in the race.
"I was kind of surprised that the names that were given [in the poll] I didn't recognize," he said. "In fact, I went immediately to my iPad and started looking up the names of some of the independents, for instance.
"I'll be very honest with you, I haven't been paying much attention lately," he added. "I think it's still too early. I think these races seem to start earlier and earlier every cycle. And it gets to really be a real pain."
Baker, while trailing Coakley, is leading other Democrats in head-to-head match-ups. He's up on Grossman 32 to 24 percent. He leads Berwick 36 to 17 percent. And he's ahead of Kayyem 34 to 19 percent.
For the second-tier Democrats — Berwick, Kayyem and Avellone — a strong showing at the Democratic convention could mean wider notice. But none of them seem poised for the sort of break out a little-known Deval Patrick pulled off in 2006.
The WBUR poll, conducted March 14 to 16, also found U.S. Sen. Edward Markey leads a generic Republican candidate 50 to 29 percent.
Markey, a longtime U.S. representative, won a special election in June to fill the Senate seat vacated by John Kerry, who left to serve as secretary of state in the Obama administration.
Republican Gabriel Gomez made a relatively strong showing in that race, but declined to run against Markey this year, when he must seek re-election.
Scott Brown, another marquee Republican name, decamped for New Hampshire, where he has launched an exploratory committee for a U.S. Senate run.
The WBUR poll shows the two Republicans challenging Markey, Hopkinton selectman Brian Herr and serial candidate Frank Addivinola, are virtual unknowns.
The poll numbers "say to me that Markey is going to safely win re-election," said Ubertaccio, the political scientist. "Despite [the Republicans'] rhetoric last time around about how vulnerable he is, they can't get an A-lister to challenge him."
The survey found that 40 percent of Massachusetts residents think it's a "good idea" for Brown to run for Senate in New Hampshire and 31 percent think it's a "bad idea."
Sixty-seven percent say they think of Brown as more closely associated with Massachusetts and 11 percent think of him as more closely associated with New Hampshire.
Forty-five percent of Massachusetts voters have a favorable view of Brown and 35 percent have an unfavorable view — solid numbers, but down from 2012, when he lost his U.S. Senate seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
A December 2012 WBUR poll found 58 percent had a favorable view of Brown and 28 percent had an unfavorable view.
The new WBUR survey also included questions on a couple of hot-button social issues. Results released Wednesday show support for casinos in Massachusetts has fallen sharply in recent weeks, while more voters are backing legalization of marijuana.
The survey has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
-- Here are the poll's topline results (via Scribd):
-- Here are the poll's crosstabs (via Scribd):