Democratic Rep. Ed Markey holds only a narrow advantage against Republican Gabriel Gomez in the special election for Senate in Massachusetts, according to an internal poll from the GOP candidate’s campaign, the latest sign the blue state race will be more competitive than Democrats expected.
Markey leads Gomez 46 percent to 43 percent, according to a live-caller survey of 800 likely voters conducted by the GOP firm OnMessage. The poll, which took place from May 5 to May 7, has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points, and it was commissioned jointly by the Gomez campaign and National Republican Senatorial Committee. Eleven percent of voters are undecided.
Other surveys have reported similar results, indicating that, at minimum, Democrats can’t take for granted a race even though it takes place in deeply Democratic Massachusetts.
The poll found that Gomez’s support is rooted in his appeal to independents. Among them, the former Navy SEAL leads Markey 50 percent to 36 percent. Forty-nine percent of independents view him favorably, while only 10 percent don’t. Overall, 43 percent of likely voters view him favorably, while just 15 percent don’t – a net favorability higher than even former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown’s (53 percent to 31 percent).
Comparatively, only 44 percent of independents view Markey unfavorably, compared with 40 percent who see him favorably. Republicans have argued that Gomez’s support among independents is the key to him pulling an upset in the special election.
“We cannot overstate the importance of the fact that 36-year Congressman Markey starts the general election with his image upside down among Independent voters,” the polling memo said.
Overall, likely voters still see Markey positively, 45 percent to 35 percent.
The survey does contain some good news for Democrats: President Obama remains overwhelmingly popular in Massachusetts. His approval rating stands at 60 percent, according to the poll, suggesting that if the race becomes a referendum on Obama’s tenure, Markey will benefit.
Despite the better-than-expected numbers, Gomez must still clear a number of obstacles before defeating Markey. He must prove his image can withstand a coming barrage of negative advertisements, and that he can handle the scrutiny of a close campaign.
“This survey would strongly suggest that Markey and his surrogates will quickly turn to decidedly negative attacks in an attempt to redefine Gomez,” the poll said.