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Berkshire Voters Support Coakley For Gov. Despite Grossman Endorsements

Jim Levulis

Massachusetts Democrats are sending Martha Coakley to November’s gubernatorial election. And while most Berkshire political leaders say they were not surprised by Coakley’s win, it was against their wishes.After holding a steady lead of at least 20 percentage points in polling since the spring, Coakley, the state’s attorney general, garnered 42 percent of Democratic primary votes. Thirty-six percent voted for Treasurer Steve Grossman and 21 percent sided with former federal healthcare administrator Don Berwick. State Representative Smitty Pignatelli of the Fourth Berkshire District, a Grossman backer, says he was surprised by how close the race was.

“If you only had another week, another two weeks, when primaries are usually the middle of September instead of early September, it could have been a very different story,” said Pignatelli.

Democratic Governor Deval Patrick is not seeking a third term. Grossman received endorsements from all four of Berkshire County’s state representatives, Sheriff Tom Bowler, and Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi and City Council President Melissa Mazzeo.But Grossman came in third in the county, with only 27 percent. Berwick edged him out by less than one percentage point, while 45 percent voted for Coakley. State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield is co-chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign. He did not endorse any gubernatorial candidate in the primary.

“I don’t think that voters look at endorsements as an automatic,” Downing said. “That if their rep or their senator endorses someone then they’re definitely going to go there. It might mean that they give them a second look. It might mean they give them a longer look. But when all is said and done it comes down to the candidates. Clearly in the Berkshires Martha Coakley made the best case for why she ought to be the standard bearer for the Democratic Party.”

Representative Paul Mark of the Second Berkshire District says Berwick’s platform of a single-payer health care system resonated with county voters.

“He had a pretty good field operation, ground game going in western Massachusetts, which is obviously a more progressive area than a lot of other parts of the state,” said Mark.

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, a former high school classmate of Coakley’s, has supported her since she entered the race.

“I think she’s certainly a proven commodity with her record as attorney general,” Alcombright said. “She’s been a very strong leader in that position. I think she brings a lot of great qualities to the governor’s race.”

Pignatelli says it is a concern that 57 percent of those who cast ballots in the Democratic primary did not vote for the eventual winner.

“It would be alarming to me if those were the results of my primary election,” Pignatelli said. “I’d be out pounding the pavement right now. The low voter turnout is very distressing. We are talking about almost 60 percent voting against you out of an almost 20 percent voter turnout. So I think there is an awful lot of work to do to reengage people in Massachusetts to get involved in the elections.”

Downing doesn’t see the divide among Democratic voters as an issue in Coakley’s race against Republican nominee Charlie Baker.

“Those voters were voting for progress,” Downing said “Those voters were voting to continue the direction that we’ve set under Governor Patrick. They weren’t voting to go in a different direction.”

Seventy-four percent of those who voted in the Republican primary cast ballots for Baker, who defeated Tea Party candidate Mark Fisher. Representative Paul Mark credits the disparity among Democratic voters to three well-qualified candidates.

“The thing that I fear is that the turnout was so low and I’m hoping that we can really boost that over the next couple of months,” Mark said. “In November, if Democrats show up, Democrats are going to win. If we don’t show up and if we take it for granted and don’t rally around the nominee and don’t unify then there’s going to be trouble. But if we do do all of those things then I think we are in for another good win.”

Three independents, Evan Falchuk, Jeff McCormick and Scott Lively, have also qualified for November’s ballot.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant 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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