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Romney popularity down in poll

Many in survey hit national run

Governor Mitt Romney's popularity has dropped slightly since last spring, and Massachusetts residents had a negative reaction to his recent out-of-state travel and perceived national ambitions, a new University of Massachusetts poll indicates.

The survey found that 54 percent of Massachusetts voters had a favorable opinion of the governor, down from 61 percent in April. Forty-two percent said his time out of the state has hurt Massachusetts, while 33 percent said it helped the state.

Romney's perceived national ambitions do not seem to sit well with voters. Asked whether they would support Romney if he were to run for president in 2008, as some pundits have said he would like to do, 54 percent of respondents said they would oppose his candidacy, while 34 percent would support it.

In addition, the survey indicated that same-sex marriage, which became legal in Massachusetts in May over Romney's objections, is not a major issue among voters, who say that health care and health insurance costs are at the top of their agenda.

The five-day survey of 600 likely voters was completed on Monday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The Republican governor has begun a fall political offensive that will try to use his standing among voters to persuade them to elect a slate of Republican candidates to the Legislature.

Beginning with a press conference in the North End yesterday morning and then traveling to Framingham and Worcester for Republican state Senate candidates, Romney touted his antitax agenda, his plan to restructure state agencies, and his push to get tough on teacher unions. He said that same-sex marriage would not be a key part of the Republican campaign this fall.

The Republican Party holds seven seats in the 40-member Senate and 22 in the 160 member-House. Romney has raised millions of dollars for the state party and helped recruit 134 candidates to run this fall. The governor has staked much of his political future on making some gains in the Legislature, though he tried to dampen expectations yesterday.

"If we pick up a seat, I'll be happy," he told reporters in a park across from the Paul Revere House.

Asked to rate Romney's job performance, 55 percent rated it as excellent or good, while 44 percent said it was poor or not so good. In April, 58 percent approved of his job performance, and 40 percent rated it as poor or not so good.

"While this is not a dramatic drop, given his high visibility at the Republican convention and other out-of-state venues, all that has trimmed the governor's popularity," said Lou DiNatale, the director of the Center for Economic and Civic Opinion at UMass-Lowell who directed the poll.

Romney has come under fire from Democrats for his travels this summer, including spending nearly a week in New York City for the Republican convention, where he was highly visible in his attacks on Senator John F. Kerry, Democratic nominee for president.

The Globe reported earlier this month that Romney was out of the state for all but seven of the 22 working days in August, promoting a book he had written, taking a vacation, visiting the Summer Olympics in Athens, and attending to political matters.

The UMass poll also asked voters who they favored to replace Kerry in the US Senate if he is elected president. The poll indicated that US Representative Barney Frank would hold a strong lead in the Democratic field and would beat Romney in a general election, 57 percent to 35 percent. The governor has insisted he is not interested in Kerry's Senate seat.

In the potential Democratic race for Kerry's seat, Frank, a liberal icon famous for his wit and sharp tongue, would be an early leader in the crowded field, the poll indicated. Running a strong second is US Representative Martin T. Meehan of Lowell, while US Representative Edward Markey of Malden, the dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, would come in a distant third.

In a crowded field of Democrats, the poll indicated that Frank would get 29 percent; Meehan, 20 percent; Markey, 10 percent; former state treasurer Shannon O'Brien, 9 percent; Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, 8 percent; US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, 6 percent; and Niki Tsongas, who has said she will not run, 4 percent. The survey for the Democratic primary included 400 likely Democratic primary voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

The poll also indicates that same-sex marriage also has faded since last winter, when the issue nearly paralyzed the Legislature before lawmakers approved a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and establishing civil unions.

Health insurance and health costs were cited by 34 percent of those surveyed as the greatest problems the state government could do something about. Fifteen percent cited the economy and jobs, and 12 percent said education and schools.

Voters' opinion
Results of a University of Massachusetts poll conducted Sept. 8-13.
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