WASHINGTON -- Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) enters the general election to fill John Kerry's Senate seat with a relatively slender 4-point lead over Republican rival Gabriel Gomez, according to a poll released Friday.
Markey is supported by 44 percent of likely Massachusetts voters, while Gomez is backed by 40 percent, the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) found. As seen in the Pollster chart, which combines all available public polling, that margin is considerably narrower than the double-digit leads Markey held before the April 30 primary election.
The poll will likely stoke fears that Markey 2013 might repeat Martha Coakley 2010, when the Democratic state attorney general squandered a huge Senate race lead to lose to Republican Scott Brown. The general election campaign just began on Tuesday, however, and state and national Democrats seem keenly focused on avoiding a repeat of Coakley's disastrous run. For instance, Markey is holding three public events on Friday, while Coakley held no public events for a weeklong stretch in her campaign.
While Massachusetts' electorate is heavily Democratic -- President Barack Obama has a 53 percent approval rating in the state -- the PPP poll found Gomez attracting some cross-party support from Democrats and independents, making the race more competitive. The poll surveyed 1,539 likely Massachusetts voters using automated phone calls between May 1 and May 2.
Voters had a positive impression of Gomez, a businessman and former Navy SEAL, with 41 percent viewing him favorably and 27 percent unfavorably, while 32 percent said they weren't sure. Markey had similar positives but higher negatives, with 44 percent viewing him favorably and 41 percent unfavorably, with only 15 percent unsure. Massachusetts voters have known Markey, first elected to Congress in 1976, much longer.
Gomez said the poll confirmed that his campaign is resonating. "These results confirm that voters agree with my reform plan to Reboot Congress, including term limits, a Balanced Budget Amendment, and a pay freeze for Congress. Congressman Ed Markey is against these reforms," said Gomez in a statement. "Congressman Markey began this campaign by slinging mud, and by refusing to accept my challenge of three debates. Congressman Markey is the poster boy for term limits in Washington, and these polls show voters agree."
For its part, the Markey campaign argued the more voters learn about Gomez, the more they will find to dislike. "While we don't pay attention to public polls, we're confident that the more voters learn about Gabriel Gomez's opposition to sensible gun reforms like banning assault weapons and limiting high-capacity magazines, support for devastating cuts to Social Security and the fact he can't be trusted to protect a woman's rights to choose, the clearer it will be that a vote for Gomez is a vote for a radical Republican agenda that's bad for Massachusetts," said Markey spokesman Andrew Zucker in an email.
The Boston Globe reported Thursday that first lady Michelle Obama would be headlining a fundraiser for Markey on May 29. The event is her first since the presidential election and signals that national Democrats are willing to provide financial muscle for his campaign.
Markey has a huge cash advantage already. He had $4.6 million in cash on hand as of April 10, while Gomez had just under $500,000.
That could change, of course, if super PACs decide to get into the race. Unlike now-former Sen. Brown in 2010, Gomez has said that he will not sign the "People's Pledge" to reject outside money.
The general election is set for June 25.