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Patrick has a big lead in new poll

Healey trails by 25 points

Democrat Deval L. Patrick holds a commanding lead over Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey in the race for governor, even though a majority of voters oppose his positions on immigration, income taxes, and crime, a new Boston Globe/CBS4 poll indicates.

Fifty-five percent of voters surveyed supported Patrick, while Healey, the Republican nominee, was backed by 30 percent. Independent Christy Mihos received 7 percent, and Green-Rainbow Party candidate Grace Ross got 1 percent. Six percent said they were undecided.

Healey's battle to close the gap between her and Patrick will be made difficult by her low personal popularity with the voters. Forty-two percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable opinion, while 40 percent viewed her favorably . By comparison, Patrick, fresh off his huge primary win on Sept. 19, received a rating of 63 percent favorable, 16 percent unfavorable .

Governor Mitt Romney, whose voter appeal has eroded significantly in the last year, also seems to be a drag on Healey's candidacy. Forty-five percent of those surveyed said Healey's role as Romney's lieutenant governor would make them less likely to vote for her, while 25 percent said they would be more likely to support her, and 24 percent said it made no difference.

Romney was viewed favorably by 40 percent of those surveyed and unfavorably by 48 percent, the worst rating since he took office in early 2003. In March, 49 percent of voters surveyed by the Globe's pollster gave Romney a favorable rating, and 41 percent viewed him unfavorably.

Asked about the direction of the state, 57 percent of the voters surveyed said they believe Massachusetts is seriously off-track, and 34 percent feel the state is headed in the right direction. In March 2005, a Globe poll suggested that 47 percent said the state was on the right track and that 40 percent thought things were headed in the wrong direction.

Andrew E. Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which conducted the poll, said Healey's best hope of overtaking Patrick is to describe him as an ultra liberal out of touch with voters' concerns. But he said that may difficult because the electorate views him as a positive, optimistic person.

``Patrick's strategy to focus on image is obviously working," Smith said. ``Being well liked means that when Healey tries to bring up issues that people may agree with her much more on, they still like him. Most people vote based on the personality of the candidate than on issues."

The poll began Tuesday, the night after the first general election debate, and ran through Friday evening. The poll surveyed 525 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Mihos's poor showing in the poll indicates that his performance in the gubernatorial debate did little to lift him into contention; he repeatedly attacked Healey during the four-way encounter. Moreover, his standing with voters poses a problem for him as he ramps up his campaign. Twenty-six percent of the respondents rated him favorably, but 30 percent said they have an unfavorable view of him.

The survey suggested that Healey bested Patrick, 52 percent to 29 percent, among voters who said they backed Romney in 2002. Geographically, Patrick outpaced Healey throughout the state, including the suburbs between Route 128 and Interstate 495, where Romney had surprisingly strong support when he beat Democrat Shannon O'Brien four years ago. Patrick beat Healey 46 percent to 31 percent in that region , the poll indicated .

A separate poll by CBS4 taken after the Sept. 19 primary -- not affiliated with the Globe -- gave Patrick 64 percent and Healey 25 percent of a sample of 608 likely voters.

Healey, while facing an uphill climb to catch Patrick, can find some good news in the poll, which suggested that voters agree with her on several of the hot-button issues she has highlighted as she tries to draw distinctions with Patrick.

For example, she has criticized Patrick for supporting a proposal to grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants and for backing in-state tuition rates at public colleges for undocumented immigrants.

The poll suggests that voters oppose the tuition break for undocumented immigrants by a margin of 59 percent to 30 percent. Sixty-three percent opposed giving undocumented immigrants driver's licenses, and 29 percent supported the idea.

Healey also is in line with voter sentiment on another issue aimed at non citizens: requiring people to provide photo identification in order to vote. Sixty-eight percent supported the idea, and 24 percent opposed it.

Voters also sided with Healey on proposals to limit employers' access to criminal background information that is now available under the Criminal Offender Record Information law. Patrick has said he would support efforts to limit access, siding with the advocates for ``CORI reform," who argue that a criminal record unfairly haunts people who want to make a clean start.

Patrick's position -- which Healey said is proof he is ``soft on crime" -- got scant support from voters. Twenty-three percent backed the call to limit access to criminal records, while 64 percent agreed with Healey that the records should be available.

Healey had a narrower advantage on the issue of taxes. Asked whether they support a rollback of the state income tax rate, which was approved by voters in 2000, 50 percent of those surveyed said they favored the rollback and 40 percent opposed it. Support for the rollback is widespread across the category of voters. Republicans and Healey's voters are the strongest backers.

But of the issues the candidates have emphasized this year, taxes -- not immigration or crime -- was ranked as a top issue by the voters surveyed. When asked to list the most important issue, 22 percent named education , 19 percent pointed to taxes, and 13 percent cited the economy. Three percent named undocumented immigration and 4 percent said the Big Dig, which dominated the first debate last week.

Patrick seems to benefit from the fact that some voters cherry-pick issues when considering candidates. One respondent, Doreen Churchill, 47, of Middleborough said she disagrees strongly with Patrick's stance on immigration, but supports his opposition to rolling back the state income tax.

``As much as I would like it back, I think we should use the money for property tax cuts or for the elderly," said Churchill, who runs a small business out of her home.

She said her husband, a union plasterer, has a hard time finding work because she believes undocumented immigrants are taking the work at cheaper wages. But she said she and her husband support Patrick because they are convinced the Legislature will not approve in-state tuition benefits for immigrants, which Patrick supports. ``I don't think he will get anywhere with that," she said.

Churchill praised Patrick as positive and optimistic. ``I think he's a fine gentleman, he can speak well," she said.

The survey also lends some doubt to the strength of Healey's campaign theme -- that a Republican governor is needed on Beacon Hill to bring some partisan balance to the Democratic Legislature. Fifty-five percent said it is not very important or not important at all for the governor be of a different party than the Legislature, and 44 percent said it is.

Peter Mack, a 49-year-old, self-employed Hudson resident, said Healey's pitch that the state needs a GOP watchdog in the corner office is a decisive factor. He is a Democrat and disagrees with her on issues like immigration and has no strong feelings about cutting the income tax.

But ``I am always in favor of a Republican being in the governor's office," he said. ``I hope that it always evens things out and keeps the pork down." He said the campaign should focus on education and better-paying jobs. ``Nobody is making enough money," he said.

For some voters, local concerns may override other issues.

John R. Arruda of Swansea, 59, a retired car salesman, disagreed with Patrick over a tax rollback but said he backs him anyway.

``He probably has been the most honest with the people on the south coast," said Arruda, an unenrolled voter who cast a ballot for Romney in 2002. He said that Romney failed to back up campaign promises to help Southeastern Massachusetts and that he has no faith in Healey's promises to the area.

On a critical issue involving gay marriage, 48 percent of the voters surveyed supported the repeal of a 1913 law that prohibits gay couples in states that ban homosexual unions from marrying in Massachusetts. Thirty-seven percent opposed repealing it.

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