State House News Service

Senate President Murray, Challenger Keyes In Competitive Race

BOSTON — Among the high-profile races this November, one could change the face of Beacon Hill: Senate President Therese Murray is up for re-election in the Plymouth and Barnstable district.

Republican Thomas Keyes is fighting for the seat again. He lost to Murray two years ago by about 3,600 votes — roughly 5 percentage points.

The two debate in Kingston Thursday night.

Earlier this year, Murray was named in the state’s Probation Department patronage scandal. And Keyes is currently facing questions about his ethics and campaign finance.

Matt Murphy, a reporter with the State House News Service, spoke with WBUR Morning Edition host Bob Oakes about the tough election.

What makes this race so competitive?

You saw Keyes give the Senate president a good race last time. Come back two years later, and he’s running again with name recognition in an election where Sen. Scott Brown is on the ballot and in a district that also has been traditionally favorable to Republican candidates. Brown does very well in the area. Before Murray held this seat, it was held by Republicans. So all of that comes together and makes for a dynamic, for a good, competitive race.

Is the district more conservative now? Are Murray’s 20 years in the Senate making a good case for her or are they a liability?

It’s unclear whether or not this is going to be that sort of “change election” where everyone wants to just throw out the incumbents. Her district did change a bit in redistricting, which could favor Keyes a bit in some areas.

But this is going to come down to, I think in large part, the turnout on Nov. 6, and whether or not Brown and the Republican ballot — and Mitt Romney as well — can bring out enough Republican voters.

What makes Keyes so popular in that district?

He’s a fiscal conservative, a businessman. There are a lot of registered Republicans, a lot of strong support for Republicans in that district. He’s been painting Murray as a typical Beacon Hill insider, trying to link her to some of the scandals that have plagued the capital here and the Legislature, including the probation scandal. All of that seems to be working a bit for him.

Murray was actually named in a grand jury indictment in the patronage scandal, swallowing up the probation department — but she was not charged. How might that scandal affect this race?

We’ve seen it sort of die down. At its height, there was so much talk about these pending indictments. Everyone was expecting current sitting legislators to get indicted as part of the federal investigation. When that sort of came and went, we saw a few indictments of a few key players in the patronage scandal, but none of the current siting legislators. Some of it died down.

Now, Keyes is trying to look at Murray’s campaign finance reports and the money she has spent on outside counsel and trying to use that to link her to it. She has, in the past, talked about this, declined to speak specifically about the investigation and whether or not she’s been interviewed, just kind of brushing aside the expenditures as something she routinely does to get outside legal counsel for a range of activities she does in the Senate.

Keyes is running a campaign that focuses on ethics, but you reported Wednesday that he failed to report on a state campaign finance form that he bought a new home in Sandwich and took out a $439,000 mortgage from a friend and political donor. How might that play out in the race?

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with what Keyes did there. The loan is legal. Everything could be aboveboard. He says that the Merrells (from whom he took out that $439,000 loan to purchase that home) were close family friends; they also happen to be donors.

The problem comes when he didn’t report it. He says it was a glitch in the software system. It’s difficult to confirm that with the Ethics Commission; they don’t talk about these things on the record. But when you’re running on transparency, restoring integrity, it just raises questions about why these things were omitted.

Do you rate this race as a toss-up? Is it that close?

I don’t know, it’s difficult for me to make predictions like that. If you talk to people around the Murray campaign, they feel much better about this race than they did two years ago. They feel like she’s been putting in the work. They are confident, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this race within a few points.

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