Murray has a great network of support across the state, particularly among mayors and other local officials.

He also has the support of Patrick, who has stood loyally beside his lieutenant governor even as stories emerged about his mysterious early-morning car crash and his close connections with disgraced Chelsea Housing Authority executive Michael McLaughlin.

Those scandals, however, have done serious damage to Murray's reputation — and could do more, as the investigation of McLaughlin continues. Murray voluntarily met with prosecutors earlier this month to answer questions about the matter, which centers in part on allegations of improper fundraising for Murray.

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Martha Coakley 
Coakley, of course, bears the stain of her humiliating loss to Brown in the 2010 US Senate special election. But voters, particularly those most likely to vote in a Democratic primary, seem to have put that behind them — she polls extremely well, and she would start as the front-runner if she runs.

Many Democratic activists are not as forgiving. Most that I spoke with are opposed to the idea of Coakley as their 2014 standard-bearer, some more vehemently than others.

They also, almost universally, dismiss her public insistence that she will not run for governor.

Grossman's candidacy is considered almost a sure thing. But, outside his hard-core supporters, there is great skepticism about his chances of winning. He is seen as lacking in charisma and stump presence. His 2010 victory over Karyn Polito, for which he raised less than $2 million, squeaked in by less than 10 percentage points over a state representative virtually unknown outside Shrewsbury, with no background or expertise in finance, who was tarred by a license-plate scandal.

Capuano is the only member of the congressional delegation said to be contemplating the race, assuming House Democrats don't regain the majority — oddly, in this case being a member of Congress could actually position Capuano as the relative political outsider among the Beacon Hill officeholders.

Some observers think Capuano could fare well, despite his loss to Coakley in the Senate special-election primary. But others are dubious that voters are looking for a liberal congressman for the top executive position.

Auditor Suzanne Bump's name is also mentioned, but few believe she can put together a competitive run.

main3_polrace_220b
Tim Murray
LOOKING DOWNSTREAM

All these likely candidates seem as though they'd be vulnerable to a Patrick-style outsider campaign.

But insiders say that potential candidates are setting their sights lower — at the offices downstream that would be vacated if those A-List candidates go for the corner office.

Several mayors, for example, are said to be among those considering the lieutenant governor's race. That includes Kim Driscoll of Salem and Joe Curtatone of Somerville, both of whom have advocates who'd prefer they were running for the top of the ticket.

The attorney general seat, if Coakley runs for governor, would be coveted by both the district attorney and the sheriff of Middlesex County, Gerry Leone and Peter Koutoujian, along with other law-enforcement officials. Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter would likely look at it, if he loses his primary challenge to Congressman Bill Keating. Coakley protégé Katherine Clark, a state senator, is one of several state lawmakers whose name pops up for AG.

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