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Just days before the primary, a new WBUR poll finds state Attorney General Martha Coakley remains the clear front-runner in the Democratic gubernatorial race, and holds a slimmer, yet consistent lead in a hypothetical general election matchup against Republican Charlie Baker, who likewise is the heavy favorite in the two-way GOP primary.
The survey is the first in a series of WBUR tracking polls, which will be conducted weekly through the Nov. 4 general election.
This week's shows Coakley with a 24-point advantage over her closest Democratic rival, state Treasurer Steve Grossman, 47-23. A third candidate, Donald Berwick, registers at 6 percent.
The general election telephone survey of 700 likely voters has a 3.7 percent margin of error. The smaller Democratic primary poll results have a 5.3 percent margin of error.
Steve Koczela, president of The MassINC Polling Group, which conducts surveys for WBUR, said Grossman has been inching along, gaining votes, but Coakley has two key selling points over Grossman and fellow Democratic rival Berwick: name recognition and gender.
"More registered Democrats are women than men, and that shows up in terms of who votes in the party primaries," Koczela said.
Poll respondent Cheryl Cutler, a homemaker from Springfield, said she'll be voting for Coakley on Sept. 9, and gender has certainly factored into her decision.
"I'm a woman, and I think she does a great job," Cutler said in a follow-up interview. "She's for the people, and she's done a lot of good work already at being attorney general."
If Baker and Coakley face off in the general election, the attorney general may benefit from the gender gap, Koczela said, but she'll face other hurdles. Some voters told WBUR they would support Coakley in the general election, but seemed dissatisfied with the choice.
"I'll vote for Martha Coakley because I'm an absolutely dedicated Democrat," said Alice MacDonald, from Chestnut Hill. But she admitted she's not a fan of the attorney general, citing a recent instance in which Coakley erred in identifying the state gas tax. "I find her a very unattractive candidate," MacDonald said. "She's just unappealing to me."
About 42 percent of Grossman's primary supporters say they would support the Republican Baker over Coakley in a general election, the WBUR poll finds.
One of them is poll respondent Nancy Tashjian, from Leicester. She said she likes the way Baker "comes across when he talks to people."
The WBUR survey found Baker has a positive favorability rating among Democratic voters. (In contrast, Coakley, for instance, is viewed negatively by Republican voters.)
"He's not seen as someone who's extremely partisan," Koczela, the pollster, said of Baker. "That is one thing which the Democrats almost certainly will focus on in the general election - you know, push him to the right in voters' minds."
Many voters still don't know much about the Republican front-runner. A sixth of survey respondents had never heard of him.
"Baker has more room to grow," Koczela said. "One of the challenges for Coakley is to maintain the lead as people remember who Baker is, as people are reintroduced to him."
For Baker, his chief challenge is recruiting women and unenrolled voters, Koczela said.
Ken Rodriguez, a WBUR poll respondent who works in computer electronics, is an independent who's leaning toward Baker.
"From what I understand Charlie Baker has a stronger management background in business — that I kind of like," Rodriguez said.
Managing state government effectively was the top priority among both Republicans and Democrats polled. Eighty-nine percent of Republican primary voters said it was "very important," and 81 percent of Democratic primary voters said it was "very important."
The issue ranked higher than likability or progressive/conservative attitudes, which Koczela said was indicative of the current climate.
"I think you have to look back at what's happened over the last few years," he said. "People have seen a lot of problems in state government - you think of [the Department of Children and Families], you think of the drug lab, you think of the Health Connector ... there are a lot of these things and they have garnered a lot of attention and I'd say it is understandable that people want someone that they think can steer the ship a bit straighter."
The WBUR poll also surveyed voters about the November ballot measure that would repeal the state's casino gambling law. Fifty-two percent said they would vote "no" and keep the current law, while 37 percent said they would vote to repeal the casino law.
The poll was conducted by The MassINC Polling Group from Aug. 24-31.
General Election Topline Results:
This segment aired on September 3, 2014.