The Topline: Governor, Senate challengers struggle mightily in quest for attention

A half dozen would-be opponents to Senator Elizabeth Warren and Governor Charlie Baker are building their campaigns, crisscrossing Massachusetts, issuing press releases, hiring staff, making ads, and doing all the other things important statewide campaigns do.

Nobody’s watching.

So far the two top-of-the-ticket would-be blockbusters have been busts, as voters hit the electoral snooze button through spring. There are plenty of other contests drawing voter attention further down the ballot, and some potentially significant ballot questions slated for this fall.

But challengers to Elizabeth Warren and Charlie Baker are attracting little interest from the media, lackluster fundraising, and very low poll numbers. How low? In the most recent WBUR poll, an average of 73 percent of voters have never even heard of the Democrats running for governor and Republicans running for Senate.

Some analysts have suggested there is plenty of time to gain name recognition. But candidates who have been even modestly successful in past elections have been far better known by this point in the election calendar. To quantify how far behind this year’s candidates are, we pulled together springtime polling on candidates running for Governor and Senate in Massachusetts since 2006. The results suggest this year’s crop of challengers are well behind where they ought to be at this point of the cycle.


Successful candidates have tended to be much better known at this point in the cycle. In early 2006, 35 percent of voters had never heard of Deval Patrick; same for Charlie Baker in 2010. Only 14 percent of voters had never heard of Elizabeth Warren in February of 2012, before she went on to beat Scott Brown by 8 points.

There were past candidates with comparable name ID at this point in the cycle, but they did not fare very well. In 2014, three of the Democratic contenders for governor were in a similar range as the current challengers. Two failed to make it through the party convention, and the third came in last in the primary. Steve Grossman was somewhat better known, and came surprisingly close to winning the party primary. Martha Coakley was the only Democrat with high name ID due to her term as state Attorney General and her unsuccessful 2010 Senate run. She won the party primary and came within a whisper of becoming Governor.

Republicans running for Senate in 2014 fared even worse. Republican challenger Brian Herr was unfamiliar to 82 percent of voters at this point. He went on to lose to incumbent Senator Ed Markey in by 24 points.

 History would suggest, then, that the 2018 candidates have a steep climb towards basic name recognition, let alone competitiveness against popular incumbents. A majority of Massachusetts voters have consistently favorable views of both Senator Elizabeth Warren and Governor Charlie Baker, according to the last few WBUR polls. Warren can be polarizing: her supporters love her and her detractors are strongly negative towards her. Baker, on the other hand, has few passionate supports or detractors, and many who are somewhat favorable or rate various aspects of his job performance as “fair.”

Challengers also have to compete for attention with the 24/7 reality show unfolding in Washington. It’s hard to break through when every hour of every day brings twists and turns and astonishing headlines. With all the drama, voters just may not have enough bandwidth to learn about their choices for Senator and Governor, especially when they are largely happy with the Senator and Governor they have now.

There are 5 months to primary day, and 2 more months from there to the general election. No matter how little the candidates are known, someone will make it to the general election. But history indicates that it’s quite late in the cycle for a candidate this unknown to voters to ultimately be successful.


We’re conducting an online survey for our sister publication CommonWealth Magazine. If you read CommonWealth in print or online, or listen to a CW podcast, please take a few minutes to give your feedback. Thanks!

This week on the Horse Race we went “North of the Wall” to New Hampshire, where talk of presidential primaries is beginning. We also check in on the Republican challengers to Rep. Seth Moulton, and Steve is vindicated by the AP Style Guide -- they’ve added an entire section dedicated to covering polls.

Last week, former head of the MassGOP Jenn Nassour stopped by to share some “conventional” wisdom about the upcoming state GOP convention. Then the Dorchester Reporter’s Jenn Smith broke down the latest on the Suffolk County DA race, and our hosts dug into Senate race fundraising.


In poll just released this morning, CBS News found 59 percent support for marijuana legalization. American perceive marijuana as safer than other drugs, including alcohol.

Monmouth found 59 percent of New Jersey voters support legalization, and a similar number think it would help the state’s economy.

Quinnipiac found very similar support for legalization in Texas in a poll that also showed a close race for Senate and lower-than-expected favorables for Donald Trump.

All these numbers track with what Pew and Gallup found in polls from last fall. Overall, support for legalizing marijuana is hovering around 60 percent.  

These polls come as politicians seem to be “evolving” on the issue. Chuck Schumer told Vice he would be introducing national decriminalization legislation on the floor of the Senate.

Last week, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld and former House Speaker John Boehner announced they were joining the board of a recreational cannabis company.

Also, last week Governor Baker signed historic criminal justice reform legislation, which includes the expungement of marijuana possession convictions now that marijuana is legal in the Commonwealth.

And now back to our regularly scheduled crosstabs.

FiveThirtyEight’s tracker puts Donald Trump’s job approval at 54 percent disapprove / 40 percent approve. Democrats hold a 7-point lead in the average generic ballot.

A new NPR/PBSNewsHour/Marist poll finds a push to impeach President Trump could backfire on Democrats in the midterms; 47 percent said they would vote against a candidate who wanted to remove Trump from office, including 47 percent of independent voters.

A Washington Post/ABC poll finds a majority support Trump attending the summit with North Korea. But Americans have low expectations; 42 percent think it is “very unlikely” the meeting will lead to North Korea giving up its nuclear arsenal.

The same poll shows 68 percent support tougher sanctions on Russia. It also finds a majority would support a summit meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin to try and improve relations.

Quinnipiac finds 68 percent think a trade war with China would be bad for the United States, including a majority within every party, gender, education level, age, and racial group.

Harvard’s Institute of Politics’ 35th National Youth Poll finds 64 percent of Americans aged 18-29 support stricter gun control. The poll also asked about opioids, populism, and the state of democracy.

Gallup finds that most voters don’t like incumbents… unless the incumbent is their own representative. Half (51 percent) say their own House representative deserves re-election, but only 26 percent think most members of Congress deserve the same.

In light of the AP’s new guidance on reporting on polls, HuffPost has put together 5 tips for reading polls.  

Once again, Morning Consult find that our own Charlie Baker -- a Republican in a blue state, and up for re-election -- is the most popular governor in the country.

A Boston Globe/UMass Lowell poll finds Rufus Gifford leading the democratic primary for the Massachusetts Third Congressional District, with 11 percent of the vote. Over half of voters are undecided.

Elon University and The Business Journals polled residents of the metro areas Amazon is considering for its HQ2. In the Boston area, 22 percent are indifferent to the city’s pursuit of the project. One caveat: It appears the poll surveyed the Boston Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Rhode Island and Southern New Hampshire.

This year’s Boston Marathon was historic: the weather was the absolute worst, an American won the women’s event for the first time in 33 years, a Japanese runner won the men’s race for the first time in 31 years, and the finish times were slooooow. FiveThirtyEight graphs the historical finish times by country, going back as far as 1900.

--------------------------------------- NERD ALERT ------------------------------------------------

You too can be the “Supreme Trap Lord” of your very own super PAC! Just pull out a sheet of paper, “Blaze it” for Jill Stein, and file with the FEC. You should have your approval within a week, just like this kid.

Don’t get too attached though -- like the kids in that eighth grade class, you’ll likely be shut down eventually.