BOSTON, AUG. 29, 2014…….Democrat Martha Coakley, with just one full week of campaigning left before the primary election, is attempting to do what she could not in her 2010 race for the U.S. Senate – hold on to a late lead.
Her opponents, however, are determined not to make it easy for the attorney general to close them out.
In one of the final debates before the primary, Treasurer Steve Grossman and health care administrator Don Berwick sought to separate themselves from the frontrunner on Friday, even as the three candidates broadly agreed on the need for universal pre-kindergarten, the value of organized labor, and the importance of focusing job creation efforts on regions outside Interstate 495.
The latest polling shows Coakley holding between a 12-point and 22-point lead over her nearest opponent in Grossman. The half-hour WBZ-TV debate, taped in studio Friday and set to air on Sunday morning, was moderated by veteran political reporter and analyst Jon Keller.
“This is up for grabs. The voters I think will decide late,” Grossman told the News Service after the debate. Grossman made specific mention of Coakley losing a 15-point polling lead over Scott Brown in 2010 within a span of 13 days.
Berwick highlighted his support for a single-payer system as a solution to the high cost of health care discouraging prospective business growth, while both he and Grossman targeted Coakley’s agreement with Partners Healthcare to facilitate a major acquisition by the hospital group, which critics worry will drive up costs.
“This agreement, which has been transparent, has to be approved by a court. I’ll stand on it,” Coakley said.
Grossman also criticized Coakley’s openness to considering a Springfield casino even if the public in November votes to repeal the state’s expanded gambling law.
Republican gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker was the first candidate to suggest he would pursue legislation to build a casino in Springfield if Question 3 passes, and Coakley has said she’d be willing to listen to the case for a western Massachusetts casino.
“If the voters say overturn casinos, that’s the law of the Commonwealth. That should stay the law. Let’s not undermine the democracy for which we fought for for hundreds of years,” Grossman said.
Coakley responded: “The voters in Springfield voted for it under the statute. That’s democracy as well.”
Berwick is the only candidate of the three to support the casino repeal question.
All three passed on the opportunity to distance themselves from Gov. Deval Patrick’s stewardship of the economy. Presented with the fact that Massachusetts has dropped from 5th to 25th best state to do business in CNBC’s ranking, Coakley, Grossman and Berwick all talked about the need to reduce unnecessary regulation, curb health care and energy costs and invest in education and a well-trained workforce.
“I believe we can roll out a red carpet for businesses,” Coakley said, while Grossman added, “We can find ways to make government faster, more flexible and more entrepreneurial. This governor actually has done a lot of that.”
Berwick said that while serving as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service he launched the “Stupid Regulation Project” that led to the elimination of more than 100 federal health care regulations.
He also explained why he believes a single-payer, or “Medicare for all,” plan would reduce administrative costs and make health care in Massachusetts less costly and more efficient without sacrificing quality.
“My opponents don’t know what I know about how to make big health care really serve better,” Berwick said after the debate.
The Berwick campaign on Friday, just hours before the debate, released a new television ad that portrays Coakley and Grossman as squabbling children “playing politics.”
“We were having a little fun with that ad. I think the usual political bickering isn’t serving the people of the Commonwealth well. We need new direction and someone from outside the normal political fray,” Berwick told the News Service.
Coakley and Grossman both said they got a laugh out of the TV spot.
“I thought the ad was terrific. I told Don this morning I loved the ad. It’s cute. But I don’t believe it’s accurate,” Coakley said, explaining that she believes she and Grossman have had a valuable debate about important issues during the campaign.
Grossman also smiled when asked about the ad.
“I looked at the little boy and said I don’t think I was that good looking when I was a kid. We’re going to keep focusing on the message, job creation, know how to run government effectively and I think that’s what people want. They’re desperate for leadership, but they’re desperate for proven leadership,” he said.
Grossman also took issue with Coakley announcing this week, two weeks before a primary, that she had appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the death of Joshua Messier at Bridgewater State Hospital in 2009 after repeated calls from outside groups for her to do just that.
“I think that’s politics over good policy,” Grossman told the News Service after the debate. “That to me is bad judgment. Being governor is about good judgment every single day and I think Martha has demonstrated bad judgment over and over again on this campaign.”
With Labor Day falling on Monday, the three Democrats expressed their support for the role organized labor unions play in fighting for good paying jobs with benefits.
“I see labor as one of the really key forces in American democracy standing up for the rights and the well-being of people who really need a voice. I think stronger labor is better for us all around,” said Berwick.
Coakley, who pointed to the example of non-union workers rallying together at Market Basket, said union and non-union workers should be treated fairly and paid good wages with benefits, while Grossman, whose family marketing company is unionized, said impediments should be removed for workers who want to unionize.
Grossman said he expects that many voters won’t make up their minds until after the Labor Day holiday, and he hopes to make a good impression in both the debate he took part in Friday as well as two more scheduled for next week that will air on television.
Copyright 2014 State House News Service