Democrat Edward J. Markey holds a solid lead over his Republican rival, Gabriel E. Gomez, as the two enter the final week of the special US Senate campaign, according to a new Boston Globe poll.
Markey, who has driven up concerns about his GOP opponent with a barrage of hard-hitting television ads, leads Gomez 54 percent to 41 percent, with only 4 percent of the respondents saying they were still undecided about whom to support in the June 25 election.
When you include voters who said they haven’t yet made up their minds but are leaning toward a candidate, the race tightens slightly, with 54 percent favoring Markey and 43 percent favoring Gomez.
Gomez is the candidate poll respondents find more likable and he holds the lead among unenrolled voters — the critical bloc of independents whose support he’ll need to top a Democrat in Massachusetts. But that margin is only 9 percentage points. Analysts believe that for a Republican to win in Massachusetts, he must win the unenrolled vote by a 2-to-1 margin.
The Cohasset private equity executive has also failed to make inroads with women, leaving Markey with a huge margin among female voters.
The poll of 508 likely voters, taken from June 11 to June 14, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
The survey results suggest that Gomez, who is making his first bid for office, has yet to convince a majority of voters that they should back him as a fresh-faced alternative to Markey, a consummate congressional insider who has served 37 years in the House.
With three-quarters of the voters saying they are firm in their decision about who will receive their vote, Andrew E. Smith — director of The Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire, which conducted the poll — said Gomez will have a tough time generating the kind of finishing kick that vaulted Scott Brown to a huge political upset in the state 2010 election.
“Gomez is not in a bad spot, considering how Democratic the state is,’’ Smith said. “But unless he can catch lightning in a bottle like Brown did in the final days, it would be extraordinarily difficult for Gomez to win.”
Neither candidate, in fact, has managed to ignite strong voter interest in the race, the poll found. Only 34 percent of respondents said they know a lot about Markey and just 13 percent say they know a lot about Gomez.
Much of the congressman’s support may come more from the fact that he is a Democrat in deep blue Massachusetts than from any personal affinity for the candidate. For example, 30 percent of those who said they were likely to vote for Markey also acknowledged that they don’t actually know much about him.
Markey, however, also did well on a question that has in the past accurately forecast election winners: Voters, when asked who they think will win the race, regardless of their preference, chose Markey over Gomez 73 percent to 14 percent. Smith said that question is often a valuable predictor because it takes into account what poll respondents’ friends, relatives, and co-workers are saying about the candidates.
The new survey was taken during a period when the candidates had begun a barrage of television ads as they enter the final days before the election.
Several of Markey’s advertisements and campaign-trail attacks may have had an impact. Fifty percent of poll respondents said the candidates’ positions on an assault weapons ban would have a major effect on how they vote. Previous surveys have suggested strong support for an assault weapons ban in Massachusetts, and Markey has focused on the issue in his ads.
Gomez’s attack on Markey’s longevity in Congress — he portrays him as a deeply entrenched figure out of touch with voter concerns — does not seem to have proven as effective. Forty-seven percent of respondents said the issue would not affect who they vote for; 29 percent said it made them less likely to vote for him, while 24 percent said his long tenure made them more likely to vote for him.
One poll respondent, Donna Aronson, 81, a registered Democrat and retired businesswoman from Westwood, said she will be voting for Markey, but in an interview said it will be without much enthusiasm.
She acknowledged that Gomez has some appeal as a fresh face. But she said, “I don’t like the gun thing and the Roe v. Wade [position],” alluding to Gomez’s opposition to an assault weapons ban, and his declaration that he is “personally prolife.”
“Unfortunately, I guess it’ll be Markey,” she said. “I feel he’s been in too long but, being a Democrat, I want another Democrat in the Senate, so I’m voting for him.”
Aronson was not alone in her calculus.
Eighty-one percent of poll respondents said the possibility that a Gomez victory could lead to Republican majority in the Senate was important or somewhat important to them in voting.
But the issue could cut both ways. Seventy-one percent of Gomez supporters and 84 percent of Markey supporters said the balance of power was important to their vote.
Respondent David Hutchinson, 45, a Democrat from Medford who works as a manager at a logistics and trucking company, said he doesn’t buy Gomez’s argument that he is a different kind of Republican than the GOP congressional leadership. Hutchinson will vote — albeit with little enthusiasm — for Markey.
“I wouldn’t say I’m excited, but I find him the lesser of the evils,” he said.
But another traditional Democrat, Peggy Grant, 66, a retired customer and sales service manager from Norwood, said she will be voting for Gomez because she thinks Markey comes across as a “know it all” and she much prefers Gomez’s demeanor.
“I don’t like going against the Democratic Party, but that’s who I’m voting for,” said Grant who supported US Representative Stephen F. Lynch over Markey in the primary.
“Gomez is more like a warm and fuzzy person,” Grant said. “On the ads, I watch their overall people skills and, where I’ve been a manager all my life, I like the way Gomez interacts with the public.”
Indeed, many respondents said Gomez came across as the more affable of the two candidates. The poll found that 41 percent of voters said they find him more likeable of the two, while only 30 percent chose Markey.
But Smith, the pollster, said the wild card that can’t be measured is whether voters will turn out on Election Day.
Democrats, who are determined not to be caught short as they were when Brown surged at the last moment in 2010, have focused this time on building a superior field operation to get voters to the polls. That organizational effort could help Markey benefit in a low-turnout election. But there is no predicting what exactly will motivate voters to go to the polls.
“In the last week,” Smith said, “things can happen nationally and on the campaign trail that could motivate Republicans and depress Democrats and that would impact on the turnout.”
Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.