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Poll shows Romney bid for president faces hurdles

A majority of Massachusetts adults said Governor Mitt Romney should not run for president in 2008, according to a Boston Globe poll that also indicated Romney would face a tough battle if he seeks reelection to a second term as governor in 2006.

Only 28 percent of those surveyed said Romney should seek the presidency, while 53 percent said he should not, and 19 percent said they had no opinion. Forty-eight percent said he would not make a good president if elected, and 33 percent said he would.

The poll also found Romney facing some serious political problems at home if he seeks another term. Just 32 percent said he should be reelected governor if he runs in 2006, while 50 percent said someone else should be elected. Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, a Democrat, was favored over Romney, 48 percent to 41 percent, in a matchup for governor.

Not surprisingly, Romney's support is strongest among Republicans. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans surveyed said he should be reelected, compared with just 12 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of independents. But his potential White House bid is not popular, even among many Massachusetts Republicans, with 39 percent of Republicans saying he should not run for president and 35 percent saying he should.

Andrew E. Smith -- director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which conducted the poll -- attributed some of Romney's problems to the sluggish Massachusetts economy.

The poll of 501 adults in Massachusetts was taken March 5-8. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Romney is weighing whether to run for president or to seek a second term as governor. He has made several well-publicized out-of-state political trips and has portrayed himself as a social conservative and used Massachusetts and its liberal political establishment as a foil in speeches.

Romney can take heart in the survey's finding that only 34 percent of Bay State residents said Senator John F. Kerry, who drew strong support here for his 2004 campaign for the White House, should launch another bid for president. Fifty-seven percent were opposed to another Kerry run for president.

As for Romney's future, Massachusetts residents appear eager for him to commit to either a run for governor or a run for president. Fifty-six percent said he should pledge to stay in office for four years if he runs for reelection as governor. One respondent, in an interview by the Globe, said he would support a presidential bid only if Romney did not seek reelection as governor.

''I would support Romney if he runs for president, but only if he does not run for governor in 2006," said Richard Martin, a retired MBTA employee and a Democrat from South Boston. He said he voted for Romney in the 2002 gubernatorial election. Only 25 percent of people polled for the Globe survey said that if he runs for governor, Romney should leave open a run for president in 2008.

But even some Republicans interviewed for the poll expressed concern over Romney mounting a bid for his party's presidential nomination. One, Paul Grisham of Essex, said Romney's run for the White House would be ''a shade of a reach" because of his inexperience in handling complicated foreign policy issues.

''I think he makes an excellent governor," said Grisham, a 50-year-old clergyman for a nondenominational church. ''But as a Republican, I think the party would be better served with someone with a more diverse and experienced background than Romney. It's a very sharp learning curve for a governor."

If the 57-year-old Romney does run for reelection, he would have to persuade some Massachusetts voters that he is focused on the job. Thirty-nine percent surveyed said he is fully committed to being governor, while 44 percent said they believe he is spending too much time campaigning for president.

On recent political trips, Romney has joked to an audience that ''being a conservative Republican in Massachusetts is a bit like being a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention." Democratic activists in Massachusetts expressed outrage, but the poll suggests that Romney doesn't seem to have sustained political damage from the comments. Fifty eight percent of the respondents said his comments were harmless, while 38 percent said they have hurt the state's reputation.

Smith said that Reilly's 48 percent to 41 percent lead against Romney reflects the large electoral advantage that Democrats have in Massachusetts. Republicans make up only 13 percent of voters, and unenrolled voters make up close to 50 percent of the state's registered voters. The survey is designed to reflect the state's voter makeup.

Still, despite his poor showing against Reilly, Romney retains some popularity, with 52 percent rating him favorably and 37 percent unfavorably. The numbers pretty much reflect his job performance rating, with 50 percent indicating they approved of the way he is carrying out his duties as governor, and 37 percent disapproving.

Those numbers break down strongly along partisan lines, as 82 percent of Republicans indicated they approved of his handling the job of governor, but just 32 percent of Democrats approved. Forty-five percent of independents approved Romney's performance.

Poll-takers also measured the political strength of several potential candidates for governor. Reilly's favorable rating among those surveyed is 53 percent, 12 percent unfavorable. Thirty-three percent did not know him or had no opinion. William F. Galvin, the Democratic secretary of state, is viewed favorably by 37 percent of those surveyed.

But former US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II was a heavy favorite among potential gubernatorial candidates. Kennedy received a 64 percent favorable rating, with 16 percent unfavorable. Kennedy, who left Congress in 1998, but has burnished his image in a recent series of television ads for his Citizens Energy Corp., said two months ago that he does not intend to run for governor in 2006. Some Democratic leaders hope he will change his mind.

Another Democrat, Deval Patrick, was unknown by 78 percent of those surveyed.

If Romney does not seek reelection, a decision his aides say he will make by this fall, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey seems to have a headstart in a race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Healey got a 34 percent favorable rating and 20 percent unfavorable, with 46 percent of Massachusetts adults expressing no opinion of her or saying they don't know.

Charles D. Baker, the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care chief executive who has expressed strong interest in the race, is far less known. Some 15 percent rated him favorably, 13 percent unfavorably, and 71 percent expressed no opinion or said they do not know.

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