Democrat Deval Patrick led Republican gubernatorial rival Kerry Healey by 25 percentage points in a new Globe-CBS4 poll that also shows widespread dissatisfaction with Healey's negative ads and support for lower property taxes rather than the state income tax cut that Healey favors.
Patrick led the GOP nominee, 54 percent to 29 percent, according to the survey of 585 likely voters that was taken Sunday through Wednesday evening. Independent Christy Mihos remained a distant third with 8 percent, and Green-Rainbow Party candidate Grace Ross received 2 percent. Only 6 percent of the respondents said they were undecided.
While the margin between Healey and Patrick has not changed since a similar Globe/CBS4 poll published Oct. 1, the perception voters have of her has turned increasingly negative, despite the millions of dollars -- almost all of it her own personal money -- that she has put into television advertising promoting herself and attacking him.
Fifty-one percent of those surveyed viewed her unfavorably, up from 42 percent last month, and her favorable standing among voters has dropped from 40 percent to 34 percent, a politically perilous position for a candidate hoping to drive a campaign agenda in the final days of a race.
A majority of those surveyed, 54 percent, said they believed that Healey "crossed over the line" with her negative ads, which have highlighted Patrick's advocacy on behalf of convicted rapist Benjamin LaGuer and a convicted cop killer. Almost half of the respondents -- 45 percent -- said that Healey's ads have made them less likely to vote for her while a mere 10 percent say they are more likely to back her. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Patrick, who has also aired ads critical of Healey, has for the most part withstood the attacks from Healey. He was viewed favorabl y by 60 percent of those surveyed, compared to 63 percent last month, while his unfavorable rating has risen from 16 percent to 27 percent, a larger increase than the increase in her unfavorable rating.
In other findings, 57 percent favor a ballot initiative that would allow grocery stores to sell wine, and 38 percent opposed it. In a potential 2008 Republican presidential primary match up, 28 percent of voters preferred former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, 27 percent backed US Senator John McCain of Arizona, and 23 percent Governor Mitt Romney.
In the governor's race, Healey advisers say her low poll numbers coincide with heavy negative advertising by Democratic-leaning interest groups and the anti-Republican sentiment among voters across the nation. They insist that Healey was closing the gap with Patrick -- to roughly 10 percentage points -- before the anti-Healey ads began.
But the Globe-CBS4 poll suggested that Healey's use of the traditional Republican campaign playbook -- emphasizing her tough stances on crime and taxes and the need for partisan balance on Beacon Hill -- has clearly not resonated.
Andrew E. Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire's Survey Center, which conducted the poll, said the findings are a signal that the 16-year grip that the GOP has had on the governor's office may be running its course. "The Republicans may well have worn out their welcome," Smith said.
He said the findings also show that Healey has failed to connect with voters on key issues, even though voters agree with many of her stances. At the same time, Patrick has emerged as the candidate who will bring change to Beacon Hill and challenge the old political guard -- a posture that GOP candidates have traditionally used with great success since 1990.
"For Republicans to win in Massachusetts, they have to have an attractive candidate, a weak Democratic candidate, and their candidate has to be pushing issues that are of real concern to voters" Smith said. "That isn't happening."
Instead, Patrick has emerged as a more effective crime fighter than Healey in the eyes of the voters and blunted the GOP's traditional advantage on taxes. By nearly a 2-to-1 margin, they also say that they would rather see property taxes cut than the state income tax rate lowered. Patrick has warned that a cut in the state income tax rate that Healey supports could increase property taxes.
The Globe-CBS4 poll found that Healey's strategy to make crime a central issue in the campaign has succeeded, with 63 percent of the respondents saying crime is a very important issue. But, in an unexpected twist, Patrick is now viewed as a more effective crime fighter than Healey. Forty-two percent said they believe Patrick would be the best candidate to reduce crime, 31 percent named Healey. Four percent cited Mihos and 1 percent cited Ross. Another 4 percent think they are all equal, and 18 percent said they didn't know.
Patrick has also blunted Healey's attacks on him over taxes, diminishing the customary Republican advantage on the issue. More voters -- 57 percent -- agree with him that it is more important to reduce property taxes than income taxes, while 32 percent prefer her position to cut the income tax. Elderly voters particularly back Patrick's position over Healey, by 67 percent to 21 percent.
Asked which candidate is most likely to deliver tax relief, Healey holds only a slight edge -- 31 percent to 26 percent over Patrick. Another 13 percent chose Mihos, and 3 percent named Ross.
But more than the content, the harsh tone of her ads has done more harm to Healey's candidacy.
Fifty-four percent said that Healey "crossed the line" with her negative ads. Only 17 percent felt the ads are legitimate. Even 26 percent of Republicans in the survey said the ads crossed the line. Asked which candidate has the most negative ads, 68 percent named Healey and only 4 percent cited Patrick. Even a plurality of Republicans said Healey has run the most negative commercials.
The poll findings also reflect that Healey's strategy to portray Patrick as a friend of criminals has not worked. Sixty-two percent said that Patrick's past defense of criminals will make no difference in who they will vote for. Only 25 percent claimed that they are more likely to vote against him because of the commercials. Eleven percent said the ads make them more likely to support him, and 62 percent say it makes no difference.
"She crossed the line when she began those ads," said Sara J. Vieu, 27, a marketing executive from Greenfield who participated in the survey and agreed to be interviewed afterward. She said she usually votes Republican and had supported Mitt Romney for governor in 2002. "They are absolutely disgusting."
Vieu said that she was looking to Healey to explain what she would do as governor. "I see something like that, and I think that says a lot about her integrity, her ethics, and morals, which is a reflection of how she would govern," said Vieu, who serves as a city councilor in Greenfield.
Healey's argument that the state needs a Republican in the governor's office to keep the Democratic-controlled Legislature in check is not resonating as it has in previous gubernatorial campaigns. Forty-two percent in the survey say it was very or somewhat important as a consideration, but 55 percent said it was not a critical issue in this campaign.
Healey's identification with Romney could well be another drag on her candidacy. His favorable rating, which was well above 50 percent last year, has dropped to 34 percent, as he tested the presidential waters and shifted to conservative positions to cater to national right-leaning Republican voters. His unfavorable rating stands now at 54 percent.
Those negative feelings for Romney had initially pushed one respondent, Nick Giosci, 72, a retired state worker who lives in Monson, to back Mihos. But since the independent candidate has failed to gain traction in the race, he and his wife have decided to cast their votes for Healey, feeling she needs every vote to stop the Democrats from taking the governor's office back.
"Patrick's too liberal as far as I am concerned, particularly on giving driver's licenses and in-state tuition to illegal immigrants," said Giosci, a Republican, who voted for Romney in 2002.