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Democrats Breaking for Baker, Giving Him Huge Lead in New Poll

September 26, 2018

FILE - This combination of 2018 file photos show Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jay Gonzalez, left, and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, right. Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

BOSTON -- Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s efforts to blur party lines and sell his bipartisan bonafides to a left-leaning electorate are paying off, according to a new poll that found more voters think of the incumbent as aligned with Democratic Party positions than with his own GOP.

Baker, who is running for a second, four-year term, leads his Democratic challenger Jay Gonzalez by 20 points among Democrats, and holds a commanding 66 percent to 22 percent edge overall in his race against Gonzalez, according to a new WBUR/MassINC poll.

The poll highlights the challenges Gonzalez faces in trying to break through against a better-funded opponent whose popularity crosses party lines. Twenty percent of voters said they had a favorable view of Gonzalez compared to 74 percent for Baker, while 45 percent said that with just weeks left before the Nov. 6 election they still hadn’t heard of the Democratic challenger.

The poll of 506 likely voters was conducted Sept. 17 through Sept. 21, overlapping with Gonzalez’s announcement of a plan to tax university endowments and pro-Baker super PAC ads airing that tout the governor as someone who has held the line on taxes.

Gonzalez’s support in a head-to-head matchup against Baker has climbed only three points since November 2017, based on MassINC polls, while Baker’s number climbed seven points over the same time period with 10 percent still undecided.

Sixty-seven percent of Democrats have a favorable view of the governor in the new poll, and 52 percent said they would vote for Baker over Gonzalez compared to the 32 percent who said they were sticking with their party’s nominee.

Baker also led Gonzalez among Republican voters 86 percent to 3 percent, and among the coveted bloc of unenrolled voters who make up more than half of the electorate and prefer Baker 70 percent to 30 percent for Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, in the days after winning the Democratic primary, tried to hurt Baker by criticizing his endorsement of the GOP slate in Massachusetts that includes U.S. Senate nominee Geoff Diehl, a prominent support of President Donald Trump.

While only 29 percent of voters said they have a favorable view of Trump, 55 percent said Baker’s endorsement of Diehl against U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren made no difference to them, while 28 percent said it made them less likely to vote for the governor.

Baker’s positioning vis-a-vis Trump has been a closely watched and choreographed affair since he pronounced Trump unfit for the White House in 2016 and did not vote for the president.

Forty-six percent of those surveyed said they think the governor has handled Trump appropriately, while 31 percent said he’s has not been critical enough and 10 percent said he’s been too critical.

Baker has bucked the national GOP on issues such as health care and immigration, and 34 percent of those polled said they think Baker tends to take positions more similar to the Democratic Party’s stance than the Republican Party. Twenty-nine percent said Baker is more aligned with the GOP than Democrats, while 21 percent said he’s somewhere in the middle and 16 percent were undecided.

Democrats have tried to paint Baker as a “status quo” leader who has failed to invest enough in transportation, education or environmental preservation and clean energy, but Baker has also worked with Democratic leaders on Beacon Hill on issues like access to contraception and transgender rights that have endeared him to some voters on the left. Baker next week plans to give the keynote address in Washington, D.C. at the annual dinner of the Log Cabin Republicans, a pro-LGBT rights group.

While Baker easily defeated conservative Scott Lively in the GOP primary in September, the controversial Springfield pastor won over 36 percent of GOP primary voters, or more than 98,000 people. Lively’s performance led some pundits to speculate that Baker could be in trouble among diehard Republicans who he needed four years ago to defeat Democratic Martha Coakley.

A close advisor to Baker’s re-election campaign, however, told the News Service that they are not worried about shedding GOP voters.

“They were trying to send a message to the governor that we wish you were a little more conservative or we wish you were a little nicer to the president, but they’re not going to vote for a Democrat,” the advisor said.

Baker’s lead in the WBUR/MassINC poll was larger than in last week’s Globe/Suffolk poll that had Gonzalez trailing Baker 55-28, with 17 percent undecided.

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