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Poll shows Massachusetts governor's race tightening

BOSTON (Reuters) - A Republican former hospital executive is gaining ground on Democratic rivals in the race to be Massachusetts' next governor, according to a poll released on Friday.

The Boston Globe poll found Republican Charlie Baker trailed the state's Democratic Attorney General, Martha Coakley, by 5 percentage points in a theoretical general election match-up, closer than previous polls have shown. Coakley was supported by 37 percent of likely voters and Baker by 32 percent.

Baker led in a hypothetical match-up with Coakley's main rival for the Democratic nomination, state Treasurer Steve Grossman, drawing 32 percent of voters to Grossman's 26 percent.

The results from the poll, which had a margin of error of 4 percentage points, marked a change from a series of other polls in recent months that showed Coakley with a comfortable lead, pollster John Della Volpe said in the Globe.

"We are now in a real horse race," he told the newspaper.

With five months to go until the election, many of the 602 likely voters surveyed by telephone from May 29 to June 3 by polling firm SocialSphere remain undecided, with more than one in five uncommitted in either theoretical match-up.

Massachusetts current governor, Democrat Deval Patrick, does not plan to seek a third term. While historically seen as liberal-leaning, the state had a string of four Republican governors dating to 1991 before Patrick took office.

In 2010, Coakley lost a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat held for decades by Democrat Edward Kennedy to Republican Scott Brown, who later failed to win re-election.

Baker, whose early campaign has focused on fiscal issues, has taken more liberal positions on social issues than those backed by the national Republican Party, supporting gay marriage and abortion rights.

Coakley also has campaigned on economic issues, including a call to raise the minimum wage in the state from its $8 to $11 an hour and to lower the cost of college.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu)

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