U.S. Representative Edward Markey has taken an early lead among Massachusetts voters in the race to fill the U.S. Senate seat previously held by Secretary of State John Kerry, according to a new poll.
The University of Massachusetts Lowell-Boston Herald poll released late on Wednesday showed that Markey had the lead both against his Democratic rival and against all three Republican candidates, although many of the 600 voters surveyed said they had little knowledge of the candidates.
Massachusetts will hold party primaries on April 30 ahead of the June 25 vote, which will be the state's second special election to fill a seat in the U.S. Senate in three years.
"Even among those who report following politics closely, most of the candidates are not known," said Joshua Dyck, an associate professor of political science at UMass Lowell. "There is still great potential for this race to shift as the campaign heats up."
In a head-to-head matchup with fellow Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch, Markey had a 29.5 percentage point lead among voters polled from March 2 through March 5. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 4 percent.
His lead was narrower over the three Republican candidates, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, state Representative Daniel Winslow and private equity executive Gabriel Gomez.
Markey led Sullivan by 17.2 percentage points, Gomez by 19.5 points and Winslow by 23.2 points.
Markey has been campaigning the longest, publicly saying he was considering a run in December, shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama said he would nominate Kerry to the cabinet.
On the Republican side, candidates held out longer as they waited to see if former Senator Scott Brown would seek a return to the Senate after losing last year's re-election bid to Elizabeth Warren. Brown said early last month that he would not run.
The poll showed that Brown retained strong support among Massachusetts voters. Some 32.7 percent said they were very likely to vote for him if he ran for governor next year, when Democrat Deval Patrick plans to step down.
A Republican win in the Senate race could help that party with its effort to retake a majority in the Senate, where it currently has 45 seats to the Democrats' 53. There are currently two independent senators.
Patrick in January appointed his former chief of staff, William Cowan, as interim senator. Cowan has said he will not run in the special election.
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