Republican Gabriel Gomez lags Democrat Edward Markey by just three points in a new internal poll of the Massachusetts special Senate election released by Gomez's campaign.
The poll comes at the end of a rough week for Gomez, one the underdog spent defending himself against questions about a tax deduction he took on his home that the IRS labeled one of its "Dirty Dozen" tax scams.
The poll, conducted by Republican pollster OnMessage Inc., gives Markey 46 percent support to Gomez's 43 percent, with 11 percent of respondents undecided. Markey's lead is within the poll's 3.4 percent margin of error, indicating the race is a statistical dead heat.
Both Markey and Gomez have similarly high favorables overall, but fewer respondents view Gomez unfavorably than Markey, likely due to the fact that voters haven't yet tuned into the race and still don't know much about him.
But Gomez fares better among independents, a key voting bloc in Massachusetts, as more than half of the state's voters aren't registered with either party. Only 10 percent of independents view him negatively, while 44 percent view Markey negatively, putting Markey underwater with independents.
The internal poll was conducted among 800 likely special election voters from May 5-7.
The slim lead reflects a number of recent polls that show the race in single digits. One recent poll, however, gave Markey a commanding lead, and the Democrat is still heavily favored in the deep-blue state.
Pollster Wes Anderson writes in his memo on the survey that Markey can't continue to be seen so negatively by independents "and hope to win."
"This survey would strongly suggest that Markey and his surrogates will quickly turn to decidedly negative attacks in an attempt to redefine Gomez," Anderson writes.
Democrats have already been working to define Gomez as a Mitt-Romney-esque businessman who takes advantage of perks unavailable to average Americans, with their attacks on the tax deduction he received.
But now Republicans are working to characterize Markey as out of touch and a creature of Washington after nearly four decades of service in Congress.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee's newest web video targets Markey on the 96 bounced checks he wrote, part of a widespread scandal surrounding the House bank. More than 300 members at the time also wrote bad checks, and an investigation into the bank resulted in its closure.
Markey apologized after the situation came to light and was eventually cleared in the investigation of the bank.
The ad characterizes Markey's use of the congressional bank as an "insider perk."
"Insider perks are nothing new for him. Over 36 years in Congress Markey voted to raise his own pay by nearly 40 percent," a narrator says.
"Scandals and insider benefits... haven't we had enough of that in Washington?" the narrator adds.
Markey's campaign, in response, highlighted Gomez's tax deducation, and said that the ad "reeks of desperation."
"This latest ridiculous attack from the national Republicans reeks of desperation and will do nothing to change the fact that Gabriel Gomez exploited an obscure tax loophole for the super-wealthy to give himself a tax break of more than $280,000, and is now refusing to tell taxpayers how much money he pocketed from it," said Andrew Zucker, Markey spokesman.
--This piece was updated at 2:03 a.m. to reflect response from the Markey campaign.