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Massachusetts Senate race nears end: How big is Ed Markey's lead, really? (+video)

Edward Markey has consistently led Republican Gabriel Gomez in polls for Tuesday's Massachusetts Senate election. But the numbers are squishy for a variety of reasons.

Mass. senate election: low turnout expected, polls show
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As the two candidates for John Kerry’s former Senate seat in Massachusetts blaze through their final full day of campaigning Monday, a single question hangs over the pre-election barnstorming: When the polls open Tuesday morning, who will show up?

While nearly all of the polling in the race to date has shown Democrat Edward Markey leading Republican Gabriel Gomez, the margin has fluctuated, suggesting that political scientists are still having trouble pinning down just who qualifies as a “likely voter” in this off-year, off-season election.

That is to say, Mr. Markey’s edge might be 8, 10, or 20 points, depending on who’s counting. And a sizable minority of likely voters don’t seem particularly loyal, even at this late stage of the race. 

In a poll released Sunday by the Western New England University Polling Institute, for instance, 23 percent of voters with a candidate preference said they might still change their mind, compared with only 9 percent at the same point in the 2012 Senate race here.

Political scientists attribute the low interest in the race to everything from the season and a glut of other headline-grabbing news – including the Boston Bruins’ fight for the Stanley Cup and the much-awaited trial of reputed Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger – to a generalized political exhaustion in the state.

This is the fourth Senate election in Massachusetts in the past five years, and it’s been only seven months since voters here elected their last senator, Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Nearly as soon as this campaign ends, the winner will begin to regroup for his reelection run in 2014. What’s more, if Markey becomes senator, his congressional seat will fall open, triggering yet another special election to select his replacement.

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