Attorney General Martha Coakley is trouncing her rivals for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, according to a new poll.
But a few recent missteps have made her an easy target for criticism and revived questions about her political skills lingering from her crushing 2010 Senate loss to Republican Scott Brown.
Last week, Coakley opened herself to mockery from Republicans for guessing that the state gas tax is 10 cents per gallon (it’s 24 cents.) This week, Coakley’s rivals pounced on her for belatedly repaying the state $10,820.09 after acknowledging that she had not reimbursed the state for four years of political travel in her official vehicle.
The flubs are “small missteps in the early part of the campaign,” said Jerold Duquette, a political scientist at Central Connecticut State University. But “they probably do matter because they can be marshaled by opponents and by media as evidence that the shadowy doubts that linger from her 2010 campaign have legs.”
Hoping to fan those doubt on Thursday, Coakley’s nearest rival, state Treasurer Steve Grossman, called on the state inspector general to investigate Coakley’s use of taxpayer money for political travel.
“Taxpayers should not be subsidizing Martha Coakley’s personal and political activities, and it’s clear that they have been doing so for years,” Grossman said in a statement. “It’s time for Martha Coakley to open the books for a credible and independent accounting.”
The Massachusetts Republican Party, meanwhile, called on Coakley to provide more detailed information about her political travel, including the date, location, type of event, and total miles traveled.
“Someone needs to check her math so the public can be assured that Martha’s come up with an accurate figure,” Kirsten Hughes, the party chairwoman, said in a statement.
The inspector general’s office declined to comment on Grossman’s request.
So far, at least, such criticism appears not be harming Coakley’s standing in the Democratic field. Among the five candidates battling toward the September primary, Coakley far outpaces Grossman, 51 percent to 7 percent, according to a WBUR poll released Thursday.
Former state and federal homeland security official Juliette Kayyem was third, at 4 percent, followed by former federal health care official Donald Berwick, at 3 percent and biopharmaceutical executive Joe Avellone at 1 percent.
Name recognition appears to be buoying Coakley’s support. More than two-thirds of likely voters said they had never heard of Kayyem, Berwick, or Avellone. By contrast, 96 percent of respondents said they had heard of Coakley and 64 percent said they had heard of Grossman.
In a potential general election matchup between Coakley and GOP candidate Charlie Baker, the is tightening, according to the poll. Coakley was ahead 39 percent to 30 percent, compared to the 41 percent to 26 percent lead she held over Baker in a WBUR survey in March.Michael Levenson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.