State House Roundup: Good Guy, Charlie

A bold-faced name. A narrative-changing poll. Two head-to-head debates sounding the gun on the final sprint for redemption.

Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker went toe-to-toe this week, their paths crossing even outside the TV studios where they made their broadest appeals, seeking any leg up in a race for governor that's been too close to call.

Too close, that is, until Thursday, when the Boston Globe released a poll showing Baker opening a nine-point lead on the attorney general. If you believe it (and the Coakley campaign says you shouldn't) then the national media types who have been all too excited to perpetuate a Martha "Chokely" is at it again storyline, may be proven right.

Hillary Clinton arrived Friday to rally the base, which Coakley will need regardless of whether the Globe poll is an outlier or an accurate reflection of the state of the campaign. To help the cause, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will be in Massachusetts with Coakley and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Saturday as Walsh tries to fill the shoes of city kingmaker, or queenmaker, Thomas Menino, who sadly announced Thursday he was suspending his cancer treatments to spend more time with his family.

Down-ballot races for treasurer, attorney general and auditor continued to be overshadowed and widely expected to deliver few happy surprises for Republicans, while the harder to predict legislative races had some on Beacon Hill buzzing with speculation that the tiny Senate GOP caucus could be poised to double in size.

"There's some Charlie Baker coattails in some places," said one Democratic operative about the four-person Senate GOP caucus. "They could probably gain three or four."

Gov. Deval Patrick, who has been dividing his time between surrogate extraordinaire and tending to the final projects of his administration, helped Coakley make her pitch to black church leaders.

Patrick urged unions, charter advocates and education policy leaders, in a legacy building speech, to put aside their differences moving forward, for the sake of the children.

And then he put on his partisan cap Friday, the warm-up act for Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Secretary of State Clinton at the Park Plaza, to make the case for Coakley as the rightful heir to his eight years in office.

Baker, for the most part, has not deviated from his script: Be warm. Be likeable. Stay positive. There have been swipes at Coakley, though not nearly as barbed as the clubs being swung at him by Coakley's camp.

Baker can afford to be the softer Republican when outside groups like the Republican Governors Association are funneling over $8 million into advertising targeting Coakley. Two new ads this week alone from the Commonwealth Future super PAC went on the air, and neither Coakley's campaign nor the pro-Coakley super PAC have been able to match fire with fire.

Coakley's camp isn't the only one trying to stand tall in the line of fire. Industry stakeholders are spending heavily to defeat ballot questions that would expand the bottle bill and outlaw casino gambling in Massachusetts. And it appears to be working.

At their first head-to-head debate on Tuesday, Baker and Coakley exchanged familiar critiques. But poking through the outside ads, the cloudy partisan attacks and the promises being made on both sides, a more basic question emerged.

"We can debate about whether you're a good guy or not; I don't dispute that. It's about the values that drive your choices," Coakley said. But isn't also a little bit about whether Baker is a "good guy"?

Coakley would have you believe she's not questioning the character or integrity of a man she has accused of caring more about line-items than people, of callously shipping Bay State jobs to India and of doing nothing to help homeless people move out of hotels and motels.

"For me, it's always been about people, and it bothers me that a guy who is pretty facile with math, which does matter when you're talking about a $38 billion budget, is somehow considered to be somebody who doesn't care about people," Baker said, when asked what bothers him when he goes home at night.

Making independents and urban voters, who tend to skew Democrat, comfortable with the idea of him as governor is the name of the game at this point for Baker, and his success, or failure, will go a long way toward deciding the outcome in a little over a week.

In the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't category, Chinese railcar manufacturer CNR MA emerged as the winner of a major state contract with a low-ball bid of $566.6 million to build 284 new Red Line and Orange Line cars at a brand new facility in Springfield.

Ordinarily, a project that would not only deliver new subway cars, but come in under budget and bring 250 jobs to Springfield would be cause for celebration, but some people's feelings toward China muted that enthusiasm.

Bob Maginn, who briefly led the state Republican Party, and his wife, who was a student organizer at the Tiananmen Square protests, railed against the "oppressive" Chinese government, and Maginn went so far as to suggest this decision would haunt Patrick should he ever seek another public office.

The board paid little attention to the human rights concerns, and dismissed the criticisms over process by rival bidders who saw the Chinese manufacturer low-ball the MBTA contract bid in an attempt to secure its first foothold in North America.

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, who will leave 10 Park Plaza for the last time next Friday as a member of the Patrick administration, was loathe to insert international politics into one of his final executive decisions.

"Yesterday was a bit of, to me, a much ado about nothing as to the way it relates to the company," Davey said. "The question of China's a different question, but it's not my job to get into geo-political concerns."


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