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Three Democrats Vying For Sept. Primary Victory In Mass. Governor's Race

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Massachusetts Democratic Party
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In less than three weeks, Massachusetts Democrats will decide which of three gubernatorial candidates to send to November’s general election.“You have to win the semi-finals before you get to play for the national championship,” said state treasurer and Democratic gubernatorial candidate  Steve Grossman.

If Grossman considers the primary a semifinal, receiving the endorsement from the state Democratic Party at its June convention must been have a quarterfinal victory. Despite the party support, Grossman has consistently lagged behind state Attorney General Martha Coakley in the polls.

“I think we feel confident, but I know probably better than anybody that until all the votes are in and the votes are cast we won’t know what’s going to happen,” said Coakley.

The uncertainty stems from Coakley’s 2010 loss to Republican Scott Brown in the race for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Ted Kennedy. The special election was a battle most Democrats expected her to win.

Running against the two state officeholders is former Medicare and Medicaid administrator Don Berwick. He received nearly the same amount of delegates as Coakley at the convention, but has yet to make a dent in the polls.

“I don’t think people are paying much attention to the polls,” Berwick said. “What I hear around the commonwealth is that people want the kind of progressive agenda I bring to this race. I’m the most progressive candidate in the race. I hear tremendous resonances with the positions that I’m taking. I’m the only candidate committed to single payer healthcare for the commonwealth and so many people nod their head.”

Berwick says now is game time, believing debates and the release of television ads will allow him to make up ground. He’s banking on his single-payer healthcare system proposal and his opposition to casinos.

“It’s an investment in people that centers on the basic values of social justice, equality and compassion in public life,” Berwick said. “That’s a commonwealth we can have, it’s a commonwealth we want and it’s what’s going to get me in that general election.”

Grossman sees increased public exposure in the final days of the primary race as a chance to sway poll numbers, believing debates will expose differences between the three Democrats.

“I’m coming from behind,” Grossman said. “Martha Coakley is way better known and she’s been attorney general for eight years. But I believe that job creation, economic opportunity and economic security are the number one issues. Frankly, if people want a jobs creator, I think they’ll choose me. If they want a career prosecutor they’ll choose her. I think it’s that simple.”

Meanwhile, Coakley believes her experience is the advantage.

“As you might expect a lot of the Democrats agree about equality, opportunity and fairness so we are focused on who brings the most experience in that office,” said Coakley.

Along with candidate ads comes the influence of SuperPACs. The group Mass Forward aired a television ad supporting Grossman and attacking Coakley for her opposition to a proposal that would have limited people to one gun purchase per month. The statute did not make it into the state’s new gun law. Under recently passed state legislation, SuperPACs must disclose who their donors are. And as Grossman says, one of them was his 92-year-old mother Shirley.

“If my mother says Steve’s been a terrific treasurer and he’ll be a terrific governor and decides to support something that I had nothing to do with, without discussing with me, who am I to reject my mother’s support,” said Grossman.

Coakley’s campaign responded with an ad urging Grossman to disavow the SuperPAC support, saying it distorts the political process. 

“I have said, I’m willing to today and will be if I’m successful in the primary that I will sign a people’s pledge as Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown did to disavow that outside money,” Coakley said. “But I think as we focus on our positive message and moving forward I’m hopeful that people will not pay attention to the SuperPAC message.”

Grossman contends Coakley benefited from SuperPAC support back in 2010. As an outsider, Berwick believes people are fed up with political bickering.

“They’re looking for a candidate that isn’t the status quo,” Berwick said. “Someone who isn’t talking about typical political speak and special interests lobbyists. They want somebody to lead in a new direction and that’s what I’m offering and I think that can overcome the influence of this money.”

And as for the general election? Endorsed Republican candidate Charlie Baker, who lost to Governor Deval Patrick in 2010, faces a primary challenge from Tea Party candidate Mark Fisher. Patrick, a Democrat, is not seeking reelection. Jeff McCormick, Evan Falchuk and Scott Lively have qualified for November’s ballot as independents. Berwick says he’s excited to go toe-to-toe with Baker.

“Well I can’t wait to debate Charlie Baker,” Berwick said. “I think it’s very important that this office stay in the Democratic column. Right now of course I’m focused on the primary.”

Banking on his business experience, Treasurer Grossman says he’s the Democrat who can beat Baker.

“Charlie Baker will focus on two things, ‘I’m the job creator’ and I’ve done it and he’ll say ‘I’m the guy who knows how to run government effectively’ and I’ve done it,” Grossman said. “So the Democratic nominee has to be able to demonstrate clearly and unequivocally that you’ve done those things better than Charlie Baker.”

Coakley has maintained a steady lead over her fellow Democrats, but it has dwindled by roughly eight points over the past month as Grossman has gained. The primary is scheduled for September 9th.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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