The poll—which surveyed 400 likely Massachusetts voters—showed Romney and O’Brien tied at 40 percent.
It also revealed a statistical dead heat among Bay State residents in a possible 2004 matchup between President Bush and U.S. Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
With a 4.9 percent margin of error—Bush polled 43 percent and Kerry came in at 45 percent.
Bush, however, led former Vice President and potential 2004 candidate Al Gore ’69—who took Massachusetts’ 12 electoral votes in 2000—by 11 points.
The gubernatorial numbers show better numbers for Romney than previous polls.
A Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll taken in late September gave O’Brien a small lead.
The IOP-NECN poll mirrored the results of a Boston Herald poll released the same day.
“It’s a horse race,” said IOP Director Dan Glickman. “It’s something that could go either way.”
The two candidates have debated twice since the Sept. 17 primary election, but neither candidate was able to score a decisive victory in either meeting.
“Neither candidate has knocked the other out of the ballpark,” Glickman said. “Nor has either candidate made any catastrophic mistakes.”
Although the poll was taken in the days after last week’s debate, Glickman said he did not feel this had much impact on the numbers—despite half of voters polled saying they watched the event.
“People don’t focus very much until the last week or two,” Glickman said.
The two candidates were also garnered similar favorability ratings among the critical bloc of unenrolled voters.
Victory for both candidates ultimately lies in capturing this demographic—who comprise 49 percent of the electorate.
But this is an especially important bloc for Romney because registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by an over two-to-one margin.
With the 2004 presidential election still two years away, both NECN’s Vice President of News and Station Manager Charles Kravetz and Glickman said the poll numbers are probably more indicative of current support for Bush than of what will happen when voters cast their ballots.
“It’s awful early,” Glickman said. “All it generally means is that the president is still pretty popular.”
Glickman added he thought Kerry would beat Bush in Massachusetts if the election were held today.
Kravetz echoed Glickman’s assessment, calling the presidential numbers “mild indicators.”
Kravetz pointed to the looming threat of war with Iraq as a leading reason for Bush’s strong showing.
But Kravetz and Glickman diverged in opinion on Gore’s polling numbers.
“Vice President Gore didn’t test exceptionally well, which is a little surprising given that Massachusetts went for Gore [in 2000],” said Glickman, who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.
Kravetz disagreed, saying that with the “drumbeats of war” rallying support for Bush, Gore had slipped out of the limelight.
“It shows what a steep mountain Gore would have to climb,” Kravetz said.
This was the first of two polls to be conducted jointly this election season by NECN and the IOP.
—Staff writer Christopher M. Loomis can be reached at email@example.com