BOSTON — Just added to the fall TV lineup, “Extreme Makeover: Candidate Edition,” otherwise known as the early stages of the 2014 race for governor.
The pilot episode starred Republican Charlie Baker and his attempts to show a softer, more cuddly side, but the season truly hit its stride this week with Attorney General Martha Coakley’s entrance into the race. Her three-day, 18-city Handshakepalooza tour showed how two of the leading candidates from both parties to succeed Gov. Deval Patrick have some work to do to change public perceptions.
Coakley, a popular attorney general, jumped full-bore into the 2014 gubernatorial race on Monday with an event at a diner in her hometown of Medford, attempting to answer and move past the inevitable first volley of questions about how this campaign will be different from her 2010 collapse against Scott Brown for a U.S. Senate seat.
Not only did she promise she had learned from her mistakes, but she tried to show it by racing around the state to meet as many voters as possible and shed the entitled, complacent image she got tagged with after the Senate defeat. She even visited Fenway Park, which became a symbol of her lackluster campaign after she thumbed her nose at the idea of standing in the cold outside the ballpark in the middle of winter to meet a few voters. By late week, her upcoming schedule looked more ordinary, with two events on Saturday, one Sunday and one Monday.
If you didn’t meet, see or hear about Coakley this week, it’s probably because you were A) Too busy trying to meet all of Boston’s mayoral candidates through the Globe’s new online Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game, or B) watching Rep. Carl Sciortino’s congressional “Tea Party Dad” ad on repeat and showing it to all your friends.
The House and Senate both had little going on with hearings on the governor’s $911 million environmental bond bill and the annual bottle bill expansion sparking the most heat at the State House. A tech tax repeal vote was pushed off for another week, and Patrick inked a bipartisan bill to remove 17-year-olds from the adult court system.
The early message from Coakley (as messages tend to be at the start of any campaign) was somewhat vague and focused on improving economic opportunities for businesses and launching the “next phase” of education reform, which could include longer school days and an “everything is on the table” approach to paying for it.
Early whispers from Baker World about Coakley’s choice of topics called into question the prosecutor’s experience and record, or lack thereof, on both policy fronts. Stay tuned.
With Congressman Michael Capuano still tiptoeing down the sidelines and Sen. Dan Wolf’s future in limbo, Coakley joined a crowded Democratic field that already includes established party candidate Treasurer Steven Grossman and a slate of newcomers like former Medicare chief Donald Berwick, biotech executive Joe Avellone and national security expert Juliette Kayyem, all hoping to catch lightning in a bottle like Patrick did in 2006.
Their challenge will be to defend, at least to some extent, Patrick and their party leadership’s record on job growth and post-recession economic recovery in the face of persistently mediocre job news. The latest jobs report released this week by the administration showed the addition of 7,500 jobs to the economy in August, while the unemployment rate remained stagnant at 7.2 percent as the workforce grew and so did the number of unemployed.
For now, the state’s unemployment rate remained a tick below the national 7.3 percent rate helping policymakers dodge the ignominious challenge of trying to explain why for the first time in more than six years unemployment in Massachusetts is worse than the national average. An updated national jobless rate is due out in early October.
Patrick did his part to put a positive spin on the state’s progress, celebrating the opening of Sanofi Global Research and Development’s new facility near Central Square and touting a report that found clean energy jobs grew by 11.8 percent in the last year.
The governor touted the report as a sign of strength in a sector prioritized and invested in by his administration that now employs 80,000 people at 5,557 clean energy companies.
One person still eager to take on the challenge of rebuilding the economy is Wolf, but he’s still not sure he’ll be allowed. Wolf got a temporary reprieve when the Ethics Commission decided to consider a new regulatory exemption from certain conflict of interest laws that would allow the Cape Cod Democrat and Cape Air owner to remain in the Senate and possibly run for governor, despite Cape Air’s non-negotiable contractual agreements with Massport.
Wolf will be allowed to stay in the Senate “indefinitely,” according to his campaign, while the regulatory process plays out. Until that is resolved, he’s still undecided whether he will wait or jumpstart his suspended gubernatorial campaign in anticipation of a favorable outcome.
Another lawmaker who had aspirations for statewide office , but lacks Wolf’s financial resources, pulled a bait-and-switch on the punditry this week who had it in the bag that Rep. Daniel Winslow would run for attorney general if Coakley got in the governor’s race.
When Coakley confirmed her plans last Sunday and Winslow promptly announced he had news of his own to share, the consensus was solid. But everyone was wrong. Instead of launching a statewide campaign, Winslow quit the House to become the first general counsel at Rimini Street, a Las-Vegas based software service firm.
His honest explanation? “If I had won, I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills and wouldn’t be able to get my kids through college. I’m not quitting because I think I could lose. I’m quitting because I think I could win,” Winslow said, noting the $154,000 in debt he took on for a failed U.S. Senate bid.
So the Republican media darling will take his show on the road to San Francisco with plans to resign at the end of next week. Something – maybe his desire to keep a permanent residence in Massachusetts – says voters haven’t heard or seen the last of Dan Winslow.
Secretary of State William Galvin and Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs Barbara Anthony are now both weighing runs for Coakley’s job, and it’s not hard to imagine some of the failed Boston mayoral or 5th congressional candidates giving it a look when they fall short in the current goal.
City Councilor John Connolly finished the final full week of mayoral campaign looking a strong favorite to win one of the top two spots in the Boston preliminary election next Tuesday, with Rep. Marty Walsh, Suffolk County DA Dan Conley and former Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie polling as the others most likely to qualify for the runoff.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Martha, Martha, Martha.