Tale Of Two Debates: Final Stretch For Democratic And Republican Hopefuls For Mass. Governor

A new Boston Herald-Suffolk University poll shows a tightening race for the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts governor. State Treasurer Steve Grossman trails Attorney General Martha Coakley 42 percent to 30 percent, with former Obama Administration healthcare administrator Don Berwick at 16 percent.

MORE: Voter Guide 2014

With just over two weeks to go before the primaries, the three Democratic candidates for governor met for a debate Monday on Boston Herald Radio.

At one point, the moderator marveled that – during the commercial break – the candidates all got along. Coakley confirmed it.

“We’ve spent more time together than with our families so we do get along,” she said.

Gates and Super PACS

But moments earlier, things weren’t so chummy. State Treasurer Steve Grossman attacked Coakley for going easy in a legal settlement with a Beacon Hill Lobbying firm, the Brennan Group. The firm had to pay back just $100,000 out of $370,000 in fees the AG says were illegal.

The lobbying firm had made political contributions to Coakley in the past, as Grossman pointed out.

“You know, I heard somebody the other day call this ‘Lobby Gate,’” he said. “When it rises to the level of a ‘Gate,’ I suggest it reflects on your judgement.”

Coakley says the settlement was appropriate. Then she hit back.

“I have always let people know who is giving money and who isn’t, unlike Super PACs that the treasurer has taken advantage of or been benefited by without knowing where the money was coming from,” Coakley said.

Some top donors to the Super PAC supporting Grossman are known, including Grossman’s 92-year-old mother, Shirley, who donated $100,000. Grossman denied he was embarrassed by his mom and invited the moderators to call her. He went so far as to announce her phone number on-air during the show.

Casinos: development or decay?

The smiles wore off a few minutes later, when candidate Don Berwick challenged Coakley to stand up to casinos and big money.

“It’s not the first place I would have gone for economic development…” Coakley said.

“Martha, it’s not economic development,” Berwick replied. “It’s economic decay.”

“No, I’m saying that’s not where I would have gone,” she said. “The legislature voted on it, Don.”

“So be a leader and say, ‘No,’” Berwick said.

Last week, Charlie Baker, the leading Republican candidate, said if voters repeal the gambling law, and he becomes governor, he will file legislation to let Springfield still get a casino.

The Democrats were asked whether they’d do the same thing. Both Grossman and Berwick said no. Coakley said she’d consider it.

Calm at The Globe

A few hours later at the Morrissey Boulevard headquarters of the Boston Globe, the two Republicans running for governor sat on a rather small stage.

Monday’s Herald poll showed the party-backed Charlie Baker leading Tea Party-supported Mark Fisher by nearly 60 percentage points.

Baker didn’t pay much attention to Fisher, except when arguing for why a moderate needs to be on the ticket. He said successful GOP candidates in Massachusetts “made the case that they would be tighter at managing the state’s fiscal situation, they would be tighter on taxes, they would produce more value for the money, and they would make the race and the debate about what I would call, ‘The pocketbook stuff.’”

Fisher says that’s all fine and good, but he says shying away from socially conservative positions hasn’t worked well for Massachusetts Republicans recently.

“I’m running as that candidate [who speaks on conservative issues],” Fisher said. “And it all energize the 300,000 Republicans who sat on their couches and Gabriel Gomez could not energize to get out and vote for him. I’m after those guys.”

No consensus on ‘buffer zone’ replacement

Gabriel Gomez is the failed Republican U.S. Senate candidate from 2013. Baker, for his part, is a failed 2010 statewide candidate. He lost to Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat who Baker wasn’t too hard on during Monday’s debate. In fact, Baker praised a deal that Patrick, along with Coakley and others, worked out to replace the state’s abortion clinic “buffer zone.”

“And I think the new law does accomplish the goal of representing – appropriately – both points of view,” he said.

Fisher said he opposes the new law.

“I’ve been on the…sidewalks outside of abortion clinics,” he said. “The violence done to women is on the inside.”

Not a trick question

Later, Globe editor Peter Canellos asked the candidates to name a current politician who’s their role model. Fisher immediately said Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin.

Baker had a hard time with the question, asking if the definition of “current politician” included former President Ronald Reagan. Canellos said it did not.

After another 15 seconds, Baker said, “How about Jeb Bush?”

During an hour when he otherwise seemed relaxed and unflappable, Baker had been stumped, if only for a few moments.