Massachusetts gubernatorial debate lackluster

All four Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates were present for the final debate before next week’s election Monday night, but the real contest was clearly between current Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican candidate Charlie Baker.

Hosted by former ABC anchor Charlie Gibson in Boston, the debate was, in the words of one local commentator afterward, a rather “lifeless affair.” There was no standout moment.

The third-party candidates, independent Tim Cahill and Jill Stein of the Green Party, had to interrupt most of the night just to get a chance to talk. Tensions between Cahill and Baker have been high ever since the Cahill campaign accused Baker of stealing his running mate, Paul Loscocco, who dropped out of the race and endorsed Baker on October 1.

Baker and Patrick on the other hand, swapped jabs throughout the night.The most obvious example came toward the end of the debate when Gibson asked if the candidates would pledge not to raise taxes.

“The governor’s only proposal has been to raise taxes,” said Baker. After Patrick vehemently denied the charge, Baker went on the offensive again, saying, “What I’ve seen is a governor who has proposed to raise taxes every year.” Baker also accused Patrick of advocating for a progressive tax system.

“Wrong again,” replied Patrick. “Exactly wrong. I was there. I know what I said. You were not.”

“I’ve seen the video,” replied Baker.

A significant portion of the debate was spent on the Big Dig project. In a memo written by Baker in 1998 during his tenure as state budget chief, he described the highway and spending project as “simply amazing,” and that “draconian cuts to other projects would be necessary.”

That memo seems to solidify criticisms made by Patrick that Republicans at the time were attempting to cover up the true cost of the $15 billion project.

“It would have been one thing if you had written that memo to someone and not just stuck it in the drawer,” said Patrick during the debate. The governor went on to accuse Baker of hiding it for political purposes.

Baker, however, kept is cool and attempted to divert focus of the subject by harping on the state’s out-of-control spending.

“The memo was about a concern over state spending overall,” said Baker, also adding that the memo was not contradictory. “The bottom line is we were continuing to grow the level of state spending,” he said.

“I sure hope someone is writing a memo like that to you right now to address the $200 billion deficit,” Baker said to Patrick.

Other topics during the one-hour debate included gun control, urban safety, illegal immigration, and jobs. When asked their opinion of the Arizona immigration law, all the candidates except Cahill agreed it was bad policy.

“It’s one way to control the lawless,” said Cahill. “People breaking the law need to be held accountable.”

Though the race has been close throughout the campaign, the latest Rasmussen poll has Patrick with a small lead at 47 percent to Baker’s 42 percent. Monday night’s debate likely won’t shake up the polls too much in any direction.