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Primary Wrapped Up, Focus Shifts To Nov. In Massachusetts Governor's Race

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Tuesday’s primaries have set the candidate slate for November’s elections in Massachusetts. Now the parties are shifting their focus accordingly.Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker both took to their respective stages Tuesday night to celebrate primary victories in the race for governor. Coakley, the state’s attorney general, changed course from her primary campaign of solely touting her message to attempting to poke holes in Baker’s platform. North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright graduated from high school with Coakley.

“I guess the word ‘aggressive’ would fit here,” Alcombright said. “I think Martha has to come out strong. I think Martha has to be mindful of setting her own priorities and making them very, very clear to the public. But then on the other hand why those priorities outweigh those of her challenger.”

Kirsten Hughes chairs the Massachusetts Republican Party.

“She’s going to attack,” Hughes said. “She’s going to talk about everything but her own plans because she doesn’t have any. She doesn’t have any new ideas and she has no plans to do anything, but except take more of the taxpayer’s money.”

Baker said it’s time to end one-party rule and return bipartisan balance to the state. State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield is co-chair of the Massachusetts’ Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign. He says Coakley’s shift is an attempt to establish a clear contrast between the two candidates.

“It is a reflection of the change of where the election is,” Downing said. “It’s a clear marker of where the race is. We need to make sure voters know what the choice is.”

Since Coakley entered the race last year, her 2010 special election loss to Republican Scott Brown to fill the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy has hung over her head. Coakley has acknowledged she should’ve worked harder four years ago and Alcombright believes she will this time around.

“That’s the sort of stuff people never forget,” Alcombright said. “I think Martha is going to be beating this horse right to the finish line even if she’s got an eight-length lead.”

Coakley received 42 percent of the ballots cast in Tuesday’s Democratic primary as she faced Treasurer Steve Grossman and former federal healthcare administrator Don Berwick. Hughes says that divide is telling.

“They’ve rejected her yet again,” Hughes said. “A lot of dissatisfied people in that party unimpressed with the unimpressive Martha Coakley who seems to run the same campaign.”

In 2010 Baker, the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and cabinet member under Republican governors Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci, lost to Governor Deval Patrick by six percentage points.  Downing says Baker’s loss shouldn’t be overlooked when talking about past shortcomings between the two candidates.

“Let’s be very clear, Charlie Baker has lost a race before too,” Downing said. “It may not have been as high-profile, but he lost a race. So I think that’s not something that should go unmentioned.”

State Representative Smitty Pignatelli of the Fourth Berkshire District backed Grossman in the Democratic primary. While he doesn’t make much of Tuesday’s victory speeches, he says Coakley does have some work ahead of her especially around forming a cohesive message with the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor.

“I was struck by the awkwardness of her relationship with her running mate now Steve Kerrigan, who’ve I’ve endorsed as well,” Pignatelli said. “I think they should engage with one another much more than she did last night. I think Steve brings an awful lot to the ticket. I think he’s going to be a very important role in Martha Coakley becoming our next governor. But, it seemed a little awkward, their relationship, and I’m not sure what that really means.”

For much of the past year Baker and lieutenant governor nominee Karyn Polito have been running as a team.

“It’s not like we have to get to know each other,” Polito said. “We know each other quite well and have a common agenda to move our state forward.”

Baker’s defeat of Tea Party-backed Mark Fisher was the only contested race for statewide office in the Republican primary. Meanwhile, Democrats had to decide three races each with three candidates. Downing doesn’t see any potential divide as detrimental come November.

“I don’t consider any of our races a question mark,” Downing said. “We were lucky enough to have a deep pool of talented and qualified candidates who came out to run for all these races. Unlike the Republican Party who had difficulty just findings individuals to serve at all. So I think we are lucky in that we would have been in a strong position no matter who our nominees were.”

Pignatelli says the key for Democrats is unity in backing Coakley.

“She may not be the greatest candidate, but she’s got our greatest hope,” Pignatelli said. “I think that’s what we need to look at.”

Three independents, Evan Falchuk, Jeff McCormick and Scott Lively, have also qualified as candidates for governor.

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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