The Associated Press

Mass. Gov. Hopefuls Make Final Pitch To Undecided Voters

CHELMSFORD, Mass. — The top candidates for Massachusetts governor hammered home familiar themes in a final push for undecided voters Sunday with Republican Charles Baker faulting Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick for higher taxes and Patrick saying the state is making steady progress.

At his first campaign stop of the day in Chelmsford with former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, Baker used the Halloween holiday to argue Patrick has been too quick to support taxes, pointing out Patrick had proposed lifting the sales tax exemption on candy and soda.

“How would you like to tell all those kids coming around that they have to pay $50 million to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?” Baker told the crowd of supporters and campaign staffers gathered on the town common.

Lawmakers rejected the candy tax. But they did vote to lift the exemption on alcohol, which Patrick signed.

Baker, who has made job creation a key theme in the campaign, was asked why he was campaigning with Schilling who is trying to relocate his video game company 38 Studios from Massachusetts to Rhode Island in return for a $75 million loan guarantee from the state.

Baker didn’t directly address the loan guarantee but faulted Patrick for not doing enough to create a business-friendly environment.

“Over the course of the past four years, Massachusetts has lost a lot of businesses,” Baker said. “We can’t blame that on businesses that make decisions to do what makes the most sense for their employees.”

Patrick toured the eastern part of the state on Sunday, stopping at the 8/10 Bar and Grille in Everett to talk with supporters.

Patrick said as governor he’s tried to adopt what he calls “generational responsibility” by focusing not just on reviving the state’s economy, but making Massachusetts stronger for the long term.

“That’s why we have invested in health care, education and job creation,” Patrick said, pointing out that Massachusetts students have outperformed their peers in standardized test and the state has the highest percentage of insured residents as a result of its 2006 health care law.

“That isn’t happening by accident. It’s because we are making decisions, making choices,” he said.

Patrick dismissed Baker’s criticism of his proposed candy tax as “another gimmick masquerading as a serious point,” and said a $75 million tax break for Shilling’s company wouldn’t be the best use of Massachusetts tax dollars.

“We talked to Curt Schilling and his price was too rich for Massachusetts,” Patrick said. “Ask Charlie the question … if that’s a good way to spend taxpayer money.”

Three of the four candidates for governor in Rhode Island also have criticized the Schilling deal, saying it puts taxpayer money at risk to help a company with no track record of success.

Independent candidate Timothy Cahill, who is trailing a distant third in recent polls planned campaign stops in East Boston, Foxborough and his home town of Quincy on Sunday. Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein did not release a schedule.

The race for governor is the most closely watched campaign in Massachusetts. Recent polls have either given Patrick a slight edge or showed a statistical dead heat going into Tuesday’s balloting.

On the campaign trail, supporters of each of the top candidates said they were confident they would be able to pull out a win on Tuesday.

Joan Irwin said she’s unhappy with where the state has been heading under Patrick and feels Baker would help turn things around.

“We need a change. The last four years have been horrible,” said the 60-year-old retired Arlington resident, pointing to rising insurance costs and what she called unfair benefits for illegal immigrants. “Deval has had four years to do something, and he hasn’t.”

Fifteen-year-old Anthony DiPierro may not be old enough to vote, but the Everett High School sophomore is a strong Patrick backer, rattling off a series of achievements and rejecting Baker’s criticism.

“Anyone can say they are going to do this or that, but when the entire country is in the hole, it’s harder than it sounds,” he said.

Key to either candidate’s success will be the all-important independent voters not enrolled in either party. Nearly 52 percent of the state’s 4.2 million registered voters are unenrolled.

Besides the governor’s race, there are closely watched contests for state treasurer, auditor and attorney general. Nine of the state’s ten congressional seats also are in play, including a hotly contested race for the open 10th Congressional District seat held by Democratic U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, who is not seeking re-election.

The fundraising continued through the weekend, with the Democratic National Committee announcing it was transferring $100,000 to the local state party in Massachusetts to help with the get out the vote drive.

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