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Gov. Deval Patrick endorsed Warren Tolman in the race for Massachusetts attorney general Thursday, a move that came as a surprise in light of the governor's previous policy of staying neutral in contested statewide Democratic primaries.
Tolman, a former state senator, faces former assistant attorney general Martha Healey in Tuesday's primary. Recent polls have suggested a tight race, with many likely Democratic voters still undecided just days before the election.
"I am endorsing Warren because I know from his campaign and from a deep personal relationship with him that he will be an activist AG, and I am excited about that," Patrick said in a statement.
Tolman said he was honored and gratified to have Patrick's backing.
The governor also praised Healey, saying the race featured two candidates with "stellar credentials and experience."
Later, during his monthly "Ask the Governor" show on WGBH-FM, Patrick explained that Tolman had been a close friend and one who played a significant role in his own 2010 re-election campaign.
The endorsement marked the first by Patrick in any of the contested statewide Democratic primaries this year. He has made endorsements in a couple of regional races, including Middlesex district attorney.
Patrick, who is not seeking a third term, ruled out the possibility of making a pre-primary endorsement in the race to succeed him. Martha Coakley, the current attorney general, state Treasurer Steven Grossman and former federal health care administrator Donald Berwick are vying for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Healey said she never expected the Democratic establishment to line up behind her campaign.
"I get that my opponent is from that world and sometimes the Beacon Hill club doesn't like when an upstart comes along, galvanizes the grassroots and threatens their chosen candidate," she said in a statement. "I also know I've taken some stances that upset the insiders, like casinos, which my opponent and his backers all desperately want."
Healey has called for repeal of the 2011 casino gambling law that was signed by Patrick, though there was no indication that played a role in the governor's endorsement of her opponent.
A number of other elected officials, organizations and several newspapers, including The Boston Globe and Boston Herald, were among those who had endorsed her nomination, Healey noted.
John Walsh, executive director of Patrick's political committee, said that the endorsement was not intended to reflect negatively on Healey and that Patrick would enthusiastically support whoever wins the primary against Republican attorney general candidate John Miller in November.