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Race For Attorney General Turns Testy At Debate

BOSTON — With less than two weeks until Primary Day, the two Democrats running for attorney general are locked in a tight fight.

A recent Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll finds former state Sen. Warren Tolman holds a six-point lead over civil rights attorney Maura Healey.

The most recent Boston Globe poll finds the numbers slightly reversed, with Healey capturing 28 percent of the vote and Tolman garnering 26 percent.

Democratic candidates for Massachusetts attorney general Warren Tolman, left, and Maura Healey. (Courtesy of the campaigns)

Democratic candidates for Massachusetts attorney general Warren Tolman, left, and Maura Healey. (Courtesy of the campaigns)

But, in both data sets, a huge margin of voters remain undecided, and the candidates know they need to quickly win them over, which is perhaps why this seemingly cordial contest turned testy Tuesday afternoon at a Boston Globe Op-Ed Debate.

The two Democrats agree on many issues. Neither supports legalizing recreational marijuana. Both say they would have called for an analysis of the post-Boston Marathon Watertown shootout. And both agree the attorney general’s office should have conducted a separate, independent investigation into the killing of Ibragim Todashev in Florida.

But the consensus on major issues disguises the fact that these candidates are eager to nitpick.

When the issue of sexual assault on college campus came up during the debate, Tolman criticized Healey for taking no direct action on the issue in the attorney general’s office.

“You headed [the civil rights] division. And this problem has been an epidemic on college campuses,” he said. “This is an issue of Title IX on college campuses.”

Healey was quick to pounce back.

“Warren, look, you’ve never prosecuted a crime. I have,” she said. “You’ve never handled a civil rights investigation. I have. So, I find it hard to … be lectured by you on this.”

Perhaps because of how much these candidates agree ideologically, Healey likes to point to her experience in the attorney general’s office.

She threw Tolman a backhanded compliment by praising him for his work in the State House, but then added, “I wish you’d talk more to the voters about what you’ve been doing the last 10 years. You never mention you’re involvement with a hedge fund company, you never mention running an online gaming company and you never mention your time as a lobbyist.”

Tolman just shook his head and took the criticism.

As he did during much of the debate, Tolman was reluctant to raise his voice and punch back with as much fervor.

When Tolman eventually responded, he seemed paternal, telling Healey at one point that something she said was “unbecoming.”

“Maura, we’re running for the office of attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of the commonwealth,” he said.

Healey cut in.

“I know, I’ve been there,” she said.

“No, you haven’t been attorney general,” he said. “You were one of several hundred people that worked under the auspices of the attorney general.”

“Warren, I ran half of that office,” she replied.

It was a testy end to a debate full of fighting words. The two candidates meet again this Thursday for a debate at Stonehill College.

The attorney general primary race is widely seen as tantamount to a general election, but whoever wins technically faces off against Republican John Miller in November.

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