^ 29 point lead in latest poll : Martha Coakley (D)

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For the past several months of covering this year’s Governor election I’ve been of the opinion that Charlie Baker was the favorite; that he had the most compelling case to make; and that the tax revolt under way in the outer suburbs would surge him to victory. But now, after looking at Western Mass University’s new poll, i am changing my mind.

Prior polls showed Baker losing to Martha Coakley by some big numbers : but in them, neither candidate topped 45 percent, much less a majority. In the new Western Mass poll, Coakley wins 54 percent to Baker’s 25. As Coakley’s numbers have risen, Baker’s have fallen.

All of this is bad enough; and there is more. The poll has Baker not known by a full 30 percent of voters. how can a man who ran for Governor in 2010, in a hotly contested and well-journalized election, be not known by that many people ? The only explanation is that baker’s name dropped out of the news ; and that now he is playing the most basic of catch-ups, very late in the game.

The solidest votes that candidate has are the early votes. the earlier, the better. Later on, the doors start to close ever more quickly. The doors haven’t yet begun to close — 21 % of voters remain undecided in a Baker Coakley election — but they will soon begin to. Meanwhile, the poll numbers detail the bad news :

Independents go Coakley, 49 to 27.
Women choose Coakley 62 to 16
Even 10 % of Republicans prefer Coakley to Baker; only 3 % of Democrats prefer Baker to Coakley
Baker loses every region of the state; his home region (North Shore and South shore suburbs he loses by 12. in Boston he is wiped out : Coakley 60, Baker 20.

Baker’s apologists point to Scott Brown’s come from way behind victory over Martha Coakley in the January 2009 special senate election. Sorry, but that election is an exception, not a model. Brown was a fresh face; baker isn’t. Coakley ran an ignore-him campaign. She won’t do that again, isn’t doing it now. the Democratic party GOTV operation took a pass in 2009; it is fully geared up now.

Baker’s apologists reply that Coakley continues to be a poor candidate. She is that. But she has become smoothly glib with a gentle smile — enough, probably, to not lose a 29 point lead.

Will the race tighten ? Of course it will. Baker’s favorable-unfavorable number is 31 to 13; Coakley’s is 51 to 27. Baker looks well positioned to gain a majority the 21 % still undecided, perhaps too win a few votes away from Coakley as well. By all means, give Baker a 2 to 1 break of the 21 percent undecided. But that only makes the race 61 to 39. It is axiomatic that a candidate can take 10 % of his opponent;s vote away — probably not more — if he campaigns well. So let’s do that. Now the result is Coakley 55, Baker 45.

That was the result in last year’s Gabriel Gomez – Ed Markey US Senate race.

If everything breaks for Baker — if he runs a near perfect campaign — if Coakley continues to be the dicey, underexposed photograph that she has been, then a 55 to 45 loss is doable for Baker. Such an outcome means Baker will win all the places that the current GOP always wins : central MA, most of the South Shore, much of the North Shore. He might carry a city or three ; Chicopee, Melrose, Methuen. Elsewhere, he will be beaten where he cannot afford to be beaten (Peabody, Quincy, Brockton, Framingham, Norwood) and wiped out where current GOP candidates are always wiped out (Cambridge-Boston-Brookine-Newton, the West, the Outer cape, Worcester and Springfield). There the margin will be 30 points, maybe more.


^ looking gubernatorial, and against Steve Grossman, he might be : Charlie Baker

Baker does much better against State Treasurer Steve Grossman. The Western MA Poll has it Grossman 38, Baker 29. Partly that is because Grossman’s favorable-unfavorable is only 21 to 14 : people who know him (44 % don’t) don’t like him nearly as well as they like Coakley and Baker. So Baker’s actual vote goes up from 25 to 29, and the undecideds go up from 21 to 33.

Facing Grossman, Baker actually wins two regions of the state ; Central MA by 18 points (45 to 27, 28 % undecided) and his home region by 3 (34 to 31, 35 % undecided). But he loses the West by 17 (39 % undecided) and is smashed in the Boston core (47 to 23, 30 % undecided).

Clearly a Baker win against Steve Grossman is doable; but it’s not quite probable. losing by 9 — and winning only 8 % of Democrats while losing 9 % of Republicans (!) — Baker has to win the 33 % of voters who remain undecided by 2 to 1. Can he do that ? Maybe : but there are more undecided voters in Democratic areas of the State than in GOP sections. My own guess is that he will probably — if he runs that excellent campaign I mention above — and continues to raise the big money he has gained thus far — win the undecideds by somewhat less : 19 to 14. That would make the November result Grossman 52, Baker 48.

Baker has one more card to play in a race this close, but it’s a highly sophisticated one : so bear with me as I explain what many highly moral readers do not want to hear :

Historically, strong GOP governor candidates have been able to bring aboard many Democratic legislators, in the cities especially, and with their active support either carry that city or come close. Many Democratic legislators (and I will specify no further) would love to see Baker elected, both for policy reasons, public works, and issues of House governance. But none of these will come actively into a Baker campaign unless they feel pretty sure they can make the difference. (The reasons for this should be obvious.) 52 to 48 is exactly the kind of race of which 20 or 30 Democratic legislators could turn the result around. BUT : of all the Democrats running, Steve Grossman is the candidate closest to exactly that kind of Democratic legislator. Would 20 or 30 of them turn on him ? Nobody is better positioned to make that happen than Baker, with his connection to the Big Dig and its huge dollars paid out to Building trades workers. But it definitely WON’T happen unless ( 1 ) the Democratic nominee is Grossman ( 2 ) the race is as close as I estimate and ( 3 ) Grossman can’t counter it.

Baker’s fate is in the hands of key Democrats. Since John Volpe’s 50.3 to 49.7 win in 1960, it has always been like that for GOP governor candidates. Believe me, he knows it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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