Coakley favored in Mass. Senate race

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) has a big early lead in the race to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D), according to a new survey.

The poll, conducted by Suffolk University for 7NEWS, showed Coakley earning 47 percent of the vote among those who said they would vote in the Democratic primary. She easily outpaced Rep. Mike Capuano (D), who won 9 percent, and Alan Khazei, the co-founder of CityYear, who took 3 percent.

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To David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University's Polling Research Center, the short duration of the primary and Coakley's fast start paint a daunting picture for other Democrats.

"She's got a large early lead, a short distance to run and time on her side, and she's got some demographics in terms of her personal popularity that are tremendous," Paleologos said.

In a test of general election candidates, Coakley takes 54 percent of the vote against state Sen. Scott Brown (R), the only major Republican who has pulled papers to run. Brown won 24 percent against Coakley.

Capuano would have a smaller lead over Brown, winning by a 36 percent to 28 percent margin in the Suffolk University poll. Capuano will formally announce his candidacy on Friday in Boston.

Coakley's early lead in the Democratic primary stems from her high name identification. More than half, 53 percent, view her favorably, while just 16 percent have an unfavorable impression of her. Just 16 percent have a favorable view of Capuano, while 14 percent view him unfavorably.

But Paleologos added that because most voters in Massachusetts know Coakley, her opportunity to grow is smaller than it is for Capuano, who many Bay Staters do not know.

"She's kind of maxed out in terms of name recognition. Other candidates have a higher probability of growth," he said. "Capuano has the best chance of making it a race."

Still, if ex-Rep. Joe Kennedy, the late senator's nephew, were to enter the race, he would be the favorite. Fully 62 percent of Massachusetts voters say they look upon him favorably, and 59 percent of Democratic primary voters say they would have backed him against fellow Democrats. Kennedy said earlier this month that he would not run for Senate.

The candidates who have pulled papers to run for Senate have until Oct. 20 to find the 10,000 signatures that will allow them a spot on the ballot. The primary election will take place Dec. 8, in advance of the Jan. 19 special election.

But lawmakers on Beacon Hill are working towards a solution that would allow Gov. Deval Patrick (D) to appoint a temporary replacement until that special election happens. This week, legislative leaders have voiced confidence about a bill to give Patrick that power.

It is a solution favored by Bay State voters, 55 percent of whom say they back a temporary replacement, compared with 41 percent who did not.

The poll surveyed 500 registered voters between Sept. 12 and 15 for a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent. The Democratic primary subsample of 288 registered voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.77 percent.