A new poll commissioned by the League of Conservation Voters gives U.S. Rep. Ed Markey a 48-41 lead over former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race.
The survey is the third to suggest that Democrat Markey holds a small lead over his Republican opponent.
A fourth poll, released by Suffolk University/WHDH-TV last week, gave Markey a much larger lead — 52 to 35 percent.
The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group that is supporting Markey, tapped Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling (PPP) to conduct the automated survey May 13-15.
The poll is PPP's second in the race. Its first gave Markey a smaller edge: 44-40.
Markey's wider lead in the new PPP survey is rooted in his improved standing with Democrats.
In the first PPP poll, he had a 68-21 edge among Democrats. The new survey gives him a 77-12 lead — a swing of 18 points.
The gain, the pollster wrote in a memorandum, suggests Markey may be consolidating support among voters who cast ballots for his opponent in the Democratic primary, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch.
But Markey's team, no doubt, wants to build an even larger margin among party regulars. Exit polls show Elizabeth Warren won 89 percent of Democrats last fall when she ousted Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.
Winning Democrats in lopsided fashion is particularly important as long as Gomez continues to make gains among independent voters.
The GOP candidate's margin among independents expanded from 47-31 in the last PPP survey to 56-33 in the new poll.
But if the gain is heartening for the Gomez camp, the Republican will probably have to do even better among independents if he's to pull off the upset.
Brown won independents 65-34 when he beat Democrat Martha Coakley in the 2010 U.S. Senate special election, according to a post-election survey commissioned by The Washington Post.
The new PPP survey suggests Gomez's fresh-faced appeal, coming out of the primaries, may be receding.
The first PPP poll showed that 41 percent of likely voters had a favorable view of the Republican, compared to 27 percent who had an unfavorable opinion. That 14-point margin shrinks to eight points in the new survey.
Democrats, in particular, have soured on Gomez. A 33-32 favorability edge in the first poll has morphed into a 20-52 disadvantage — suggesting a more limited cross-over appeal.
The new PPP survey shows Markey expanding his lead with non-white voters. He led Gomez 47-34 in the firm's first poll. The margin stands at 55-15 in the new survey.
But again, Markey will be looking to build his lead with a traditionally Democratic constituency. Warren won black voters 86-14 in her clash with Brown last fall, according to exit polls.
A pre-election survey from Impremedia/Latino Decisions suggest Warren had a wide lead among Latinos, too.
Gomez, the Spanish-speaking son of Colombian immigrants, is looking to make inroads among Latino voters.
But the Republican will also need to fare better among white voters. The new PPP survey gives Markey a 47-46 lead with whites.
Gomez has not yet built an advantage among male voters, who often gravitate to more conservative candidates — moving from a slight edge in the last PPP poll to a tie in the new survey.
Markey maintained a solid margin among women voters in the new survey: 49-37.
The poll of 880 likely voters has a margin of error of 3.3 percent.
This program aired on May 16, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.