Is new poll a Diehl breaker? 

Emerson survey finds Healey with 18-point lead

THE HEADLINE IS not exactly the sort of unqualified boost that campaigns usually go out of their way to promote. But if you’re running for governor of Massachusetts as the Trump-backed Republican nominee, you take what you can get. 

So it is that the homepage of Geoff Diehl’s campaign website, under latest news and press, promotes a Boston Herald column from Monday proclaiming, “New poll gives Republican Geoff Diehl glimmer of hope for his underdog campaign.” 

An Emerson College poll released last week, the first to appear after last Tuesday’s state primary, shows Democratic nominee Maura Healey with a 52-34 lead over Diehl among likely voters. The gap is smaller than the 30-point margin she had over Diehl or his erstwhile primary rival Chris Doughty in polls earlier in the summer. The new Emerson poll also shows Diehl leading Healey 45-38 among unenrolled voters. That finding, in particular, said Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld, “should be a warning sign for Democrats not to take the governor’s race for granted.” 

Any warning aside, Spencer Kimball, director of the Emerson College Polling Center, said the big takeaway from the survey is “that Maura Healey, I would expect, to be the next governor of Massachusetts.” Kimball said Diehl would need a much bigger margin among unenrolled voters – on the order of 2-to-1 or more – to threaten Healey.

Healey is polling over 50 percent, Kimball said, and is well-defined and well-liked at this point. Healey’s overall favorable-to-unfavorable rating in the poll was 55-35, while Diehl was underwater at 34-38. “So he’s got a tough road,” Kimball said of Diehl. 

Appearing Sunday on WCVB-TV’s “On The Record,” Diehl was asked if he plans to make a big issue of the November ballot question on repealing the state law allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses. “I think the economy right now is going to be the No. 1 issue,” he said. “The Biden economy is really poor right now. We’ve got high inflation, high cost of fuel, obviously high cost of food. So I think that’s going to be front and center.” 

Diehl then pointed to the Emerson poll’s finding that voters identified the economy as their top concern (41 percent said it was their top issue) and that he leads Healey (49-33) among those respondents. Kimball said Republicans often do better than Democrats nationally on poll questions centered on the economy, but he pointed out that Healey is the overwhelming choice of those who cited abortion rights and health care, the next highest ranked concerns, as their top issues. 

While Diehl seemed to wave off the idea of a prominent place for the driver’s license issue in his campaign, Rob Gray, a veteran Republican strategist, thinks the ballot question – along with the millionaires tax question – is actually one of the few openings for Diehl to try to make up ground. With only $17,000 in his campaign account as of the end of August, Diehl is heading into the general election with virtually no resources, said Gray. The ballot questions, on the other hand, will have some campaign dollars behind them and draw media attention. 

“I see the two ballot initiatives as one of the few bright lights for Diehl,” said Gray. “If he can identify himself with the anti-tax side on the income question and with the pro-repeal side on the driver’s license question he would do himself some good.” 

Healey is on the opposite side of Diehl on both questions, having voiced support for the 4 percent surcharge on annual income over $1 million and for preserving the law on licenses for undocumented immigrants. “The only way to defeat Maura Healey is to create doubt about her and drag her down, and to that you have to identify wedge issues between you and her,” said Gray. “I’m not sure what the strategy is of trying to tie Healey to Biden or the ‘Biden economy.’” 

The most recent polling shows Diehl’s position on the two questions losing, but ballot questions are prone to big shifts in voter sentiment as campaigns play out.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Diehl has no ability, however, to promote his own message, said Gray. “You can’t win a car race if you have no gas in your tank, and he has tens of thousands dollars, not the millions of dollars a Republican in Massachusetts needs to run a viable campaign,” Gray said.

Healey, who had $4.7 million on hand at the end of August, will have plenty of resources to promote her message. She has been making a clear play for more moderate voters who supported the popular outgoing Republican governor, Charlie Baker. 

“Geoff Diehl needs to convince voters that she’s nothing like Charlie Baker,” said Gray. But he has no resources to do that, Gray said. What’s more, by aligning himself with Trump to lock down his party’s right flank and echoing his false statements that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, Diehl has gone out of his way to convince voters that he’s nothing like Charlie Baker.