Were he to run for his late uncle's Senate seat, Joe Kennedy would win the Democratic nomination, almost ensuring a general-election victory, according to the first major poll to study the race for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's vacant seat in the U.S. Senate.

59 percent of respondents to Suffolk University's live-telephone poll of 500 Massachusetts residents said they'd vote for Joe Kennedy if he ran, though Kennedy has said publicly that he won't.

Barring a Joe Kennedy entrance, the favorite is Attorney General Martha Coakley, who leads the Democratic field with 47 percent support, besting Rep. Mike Capuano (9 percent), her closest competitor. Suffolk didn't ask respondents if they'd vote for Vicki Kennedy.

Curt Schilling, the former Red Sox pitcher who floated the possibility of a bid, doesn't fare so well in the Massachusetts public eye, according to Suffolk, which clocks him at a 29/39 favorable/unfavorable split.

The poll also brought good news for supporters of President Obama's health care reform initiative: 55 percent said they'd support changing Massachusetts law to allow Gov. Deval Patrick to make a temporary appointment to replace the late Kennedy in the upper chamber before a special election is held in January (41 percent said they'd oppose it). With no Republicans offering to support Democratic reforms, Democrats will need a "yes" vote from Kennedy's former seat to pass Obama's broad initiative.

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