State House Roundup: Signals

The television kept cutting out.

"No signal," it said just after 10 p.m., as a group of elected officials, activists and donors who backed Steve Grossman for governor stood around the big screen set up at the Park Plaza Hotel, scrolling their phone screens and tapping away at their devices. Attorney General Martha Coakley was still ahead by five points.

Upstairs, on the hotel's fifteenth floor, Grossman, joined by campaign advisers and his family, had two televisions and both were working, displaying mixed signals up and down the ballots submitted by Bay State voters. The ones who showed up at the polls, at least.

The final result for the Democrats: Coakley with 42 percent, Grossman at 36 percent, and pediatrician Don Berwick at 21 percent. Taken together, Grossman and Berwick earned more than enough votes to defeat Coakley, but that's not how elections work. Coakley is advancing while job-creator Steve and single-payer Don are not.

On the GOP side, Charlie Baker, the former health insurance executive, coasted to a win over Tea Party conservative Mark Fisher, 74 percent to 26 percent.

Republicans converged on a waterfront restaurant in Dorchester, Democratic turf in deep blue Suffolk County, where they will need to gain some purchase in November in order to grab statewide office in January. Baker took to the stage with an un-subtle sea of supporters wearing "Women for Charlie" shirts behind him.

The turnout tallies, noticeably low at 16 percent despite the fact that candidates spent months on self-promotion and money on television ads, put two party insiders on a crowded November ballot: Baker was a key figure in the administrations of Republican Gov. William Weld and the late Paul Cellucci in the 1990s and Coakley, who despite decrying insiders in her Tuesday victory speech, has been a fixture on Beacon Hill since 2007.

The next day, Democrats, some of whom the night before voiced jitters over Coakley and her ability to connect with voters, headed to the Omni Parker House to unite, and turn up the heat on Baker.

Gov. Deval Patrick, who likes to say that people "need to turn to each other ran than on each other," led the charge. Baker is a "consummate insider" with a "whole lot of friends to whom he has promised favors and willing to say whatever it takes to win," Patrick said.

Earlier in the morning, an anti-Baker super PAC, funded in part by the Democratic Governors Association, launched its own broadside against Baker in a television ad that focused on Baker's tenure as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim, where the ad said he raised premiums 150 percent while tripling his pay. On Friday, a pro-Baker super PAC responded with its own ad claiming that Coakley has "no plan to fix welfare."

Coakley will be joined on the ballot by Stephen Kerrigan, a former aide to former Sen. Edward Kennedy, while Baker has Karyn Polito, a former state representative from Shrewsbury. Deb Goldberg, a former Brookline selectwoman, was Democratic primary voters' choice for treasurer, and Michael Heffernan, a Wellesley Republican who didn't face opposition in his primary, will square off with her in November.

Elsewhere on Tuesday's ballot, Democratic primary voters turned to outsiders. Former prosecutor Maura Healey's trouncing of former state Sen. Warren Tolman and Iraq War vet Seth Moulton's victory over Congressman John Tierney were probably enough to give even the most entrenched politician pause and raise questions about the clout of party leaders.

Tolman was endorsed by Patrick, a former outsider himself, by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, on top of the backing of his brother Steve, the head of the state's largest union. Tierney, who held the Sixth Congressional seat since 1997, had the support of the Massachusetts delegation, including the popular Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

But both Tierney and Tolman were wiped out. Healey picked up 62 percent of the vote to Tolman's 38 percent; Moulton received 49 percent to Tierney's 41 percent in a race that included three other Democrats, who stayed in the single digits.

But, again, the signals were mixed. Look at the results of the legislative primaries. If there was any political price to be paid for the Probation Department patronage scandal or the 2013 tax increases it wasn't reflected there.

Everett Rep. Wayne Matewsky lost his Democratic primary to Everett City Councilor Joseph McGonagle, the only House or Senate incumbent to do so, for reasons likely unrelated to the issues that frequently roiled Beacon Hill in the last two years. Matewsky, who had originally won his seat in a 2013 special election, endured a string of bad headlines after winning that race, including "Matewsky pays bill owed campaign worker after arrest" and "Matewsky censured in restaurant incident" in the Boston Globe.

Down in Kingston, Democratic Rep. Thomas Calter not only cruised unopposed through his primary, but also won a spot in the Republican primary, thanks to a write-in effort from his Republican supporters.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Coakley v. Baker*

(* = Including independents Jeff McCormick, Evan Falchuk and Scott Lively.)

UNDER THE RADAR STORY OF THE WEEK: While nearly everybody was focused on Tuesday's election returns, Coakley's office bounced a group's proposal for a constitutional amendment taking aim at the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. The campaign finance ruling allows for unlimited spending. Her office made a point of noting Coakley opposes the Citizens United decision, but said the amendment didn't meet state legal standards for a ballot petition. Backers of the amendment are still hoping to get it on the 2018 ballot and planning to ask the Supreme Judicial Court to decide whether the amendment is allowed.


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