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In Dueling News Conferences, A Preview Of Gubernatorial Debates

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker caps off a day of consecutive news conferences in front the State House. Independent Treasurer Timothy Cahill and Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick spoke earlier. (Adam Ragusea/WBUR)

BOSTON — As the summer nears its end, the candidates for governor are fighting an almost-daily battle for free media attention.  Each of the race’s three leading contenders took to the podium Wednesday with separate news conferences in front of the State House.

The day provided a cross-section view of the candidates’ respective strategies going into the fall.

Gov. Deval Patrick talked about health insurance premiums Wednesday morning. His administration has been losing its struggle to hold down rate hikes proposed by some of the commonwealth’s biggest insurers, but the governor says the reprieve has been worth it, even if it turns out to be temporary.

“This helps people,” Patrick said. People like small business owners — a number of whom just so happened to be lined up behind podium.

“Charlie Baker got government out of the future business with his Big Dig financing scheme, and we’ve been pulling our way out of that hole for four years now.”
– Gov. Deval Patrick

“It helps small businesses all across the commonwealth who are looking for ways, as their commercial activity improves, to be able to add staff and help our economy recover,” Patrick continued.

But Patrick lost little time before moving on to bash his chief rival, Republican Charles Baker. And he did so by invoking the words of a certain Democratic party elder.

“Bill Clinton, as only he could, described government as ‘being in the future business,’ ” Patrick said. “The idea that we should be making good choices, wise choices, that build a strong and better community out over time.”

Then, Patrick got specific, recalling Baker’s time as the state’s finance chief in the Weld and Cellucci administrations, when he borrowed against future federal highway dollars to pay Big Dig bills.

“Charlie Baker got government out of the future business with his Big Dig financing scheme, and we’ve been pulling our way out of that hole for four years now,” Patrick said.

Baker responded during his news conference, held in the same spot Wednesday afternoon.

“Deval Patrick said today that he’s in the future business,” Baker said. “Well I think our future looks pretty grim, unless we make some serious changes to the way state government works.”

Baker is running what is virtually a one-issue campaign. It’s all about fiscal responsibility. And clearly he’s getting weary of wearing the profligate label from his Big Dig past.

Baker threw the word “scheme” right back at Patrick. “The governor’s financing scheme has left Massachusetts with a massive budget deficit in this fiscal year, and a deficit that most people believe next year will be at least $2.5 billion, maybe more,” Baker said.

“I think our future looks pretty grim, unless we make some serious changes to the way state government works.”
– Charles Baker

Nearly absent from either candidate’s remarks was any mention of Independent candidate and state Treasurer Timothy Cahill, who squeezed himself between the frontrunners’ two events.

“I guess this is the day for press conferences here in front of the State House, so, we’re glad to be part of it,” Cahill said before a noticeably thinner crowd.

Cahill’s campaign message has swung to the right of Baker’s in recent months, but in this appearance he sought to reclaim the center by proposing a bi-partisan commission for the redrawing of Congressional and State House district lines.

“It will have an equal number of Republicans, Democrats and Independents,” Cahill said. “The commission will create a plan using single-member districts, and the boundaries should conform to the existing geographic boundaries of a county, city or town.”

By getting off the news and throwing out an idea from left field, it was clear Cahill didn’t come looking for a fight.

But there will be plenty of time to join the fray over Baker’s Big Dig and Patrick’s big debt as the candidates enter debate season. The three have agreed to a total of eight debates leading up to election day.

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