Baker And Coakley Face Off In Emotional Final Debate

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Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley find themselves tangling in a close race for the governor's office with just six days to go.

And Tuesday night, they squared off in their last broadcast debate. It was an emotional one.

The latest WBUR tracking poll finds Baker maintaining his slim lead of 1 point, well within the margin of error. He needs to persuade enough independents and Democrats he's the kind of Republican they can trust in the governor's office. Coakley needs to energize Democrats to turn out for her. Their debate Tuesday night had its surprising moments. The biggest came when the candidates were asked to talk about the last time they cried.

"I may not make it through this story," said Baker, who was soon choking on tears as he recalled the time he met a fisherman in New Bedford coming off the docks soaked in sweat and salt water who pointed to his sons on the boat.

"'They were both spectacular football players in New Bedford High School who were given college scholarships to go play football,' " Baker quoted the fisherman as saying. "'And I told them: 'No.' I said: 'You're... You're going to be fishermen. I was a fisherman. My brothers were fishermen. My father was a fisherman. You're going to be fishermen. And I ruined their lives.' "

Baker then told Coakley, the state's attorney general, that he admires her for the legal battles she's fought on behalf of Massachusetts fishermen, and promised to stand up for fishermen if he's elected.

Baker, the former chief executive officer of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, has said that what annoys him most about the way he is perceived is that he's a numbers guy and that he does not care about people. Tuesday night, he gave a very different image of himself.

The debate was sponsored by Bloomberg News, WHDH-TV, WBUR and WCVB-TV. Coakley's most remarkable moment came when CVB's Janet Wu pressed her on whether she would raise fees for government services.

"I do not intend to raise fees," Coakley said.

"Do you pledge not to raise fees?" Wu insisted.

"I pledge that we will do what makes sense to make Massachusetts well," Coakley said. "I don't understand what that means, Janet."

"In other words, are you making a pledge right now not to raise fees?" Wu clarified.

"I don't anticipate that we will raise fees." Coakley responded.

"But it's not a solid promise," Wu pressed.

"Well, was Charlie pledging?" Coakley asked. "Are you signing that in blood, Charlie? You're not going to raise fees?"

"I'm not going to raise fees," Baker said.

"Then I'm not going to raise fees, either," Coakley said.

But later, Coakley told reporters she had been joking.

A traditional Democratic-Republican divide over taxes and spending is largely what differentiates the candidates.

Republican Baker made a point of asking Coakley about taxes.

"And I would like to know why you've talked so much about being open to tax increases here in the commonwealth of Mass. to support the $1.5 billion in spending proposals that you've made, and what is an appropriate level of taxation if the level of taxation we have now isn't enough?" Baker asked.

"So this is a question you've asked me before, and I'll give you the same answer," Coakley replied.

"Sort of like the ones you've asked me before?" Baker retorted.

Coakley challenged Baker about his opposition to a ballot question that would require earned sick time for Massachusetts workers, even though Baker says he would push for earned sick time if elected governor.

"I'm going to stand up for people who are working hard who need that," Coakley said. "He's going to wait and see well, maybe we'll do this down the road. So I think it's a difference."

"I certainly support it, and I believe in it," Baker interjected.

"But not for everybody," Coakley retorted.

"I do worry about Massachusetts being significantly outside the bound of what any other state has done, and not appreciating what the consequences are," Baker said.

Baker and Coakley disagreed on other issues.

On drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants: Coakley supports them, Baker opposes them.

On in-state tuition for illegal immigrants: Baker supports it but only for those who can work here legally after their studies. Coakley supports broadening the number of people who are eligible. Differences that could sway voters yet. But as Coakley said after the debate, now is the time to get the vote out.

This segment aired on October 29, 2014.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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