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With Less Than 48 Hours Until Election Day, Are The Polls To Be Believed?

Sep 07, 2014 05:21PM ● By State House News
One poll, two poll, red poll, blue poll.

Believe them and Republican Charlie Baker and Attorney General Martha Coakley are on a collision course for the November ballot. Baker, the 2010 GOP nominee for governor, is expected to make easy work of challenger Mark Fisher, while Coakley appears to have a large lead over her two Democratic rivals heading into Tuesday's primary.
Just don't tell Steve Grossman or Don Berwick.

"I intend to be the nominee," Berwick, a pediatrician and health care administrator, told reporters after his gloves-off, televised debate performance Wednesday night.

But what if....? "I intend to be the nominee," he repeated, in the next breath warning what would happen if Coakley wins Tuesday. "She's going to have a tough time if she doesn’t declare her positions if she's the nominee," he said.

While the candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer and attorney general made their final pitches to voters before next Tuesday's primary election, Gov. Deval Patrick quietly made preparations to slip away to Florida to stump for R-turned-I-turned-D gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

The governor does plan to be back in Massachusetts to vote for his successor, and said he may even tell people who he voted for after the election. Then he will slip away again to New Hampshire first and then one final European adventure in Denmark, England and France to drum up future business that his predecessor is likely to take credit for.

But don't expect Patrick to endorse in a Democratic primary, unless it’s the race for attorney general. Because in that case he's a Warren Tolman fan, citing his 20-year friendship with the Watertown lawyer and former senator who suddenly finds himself trailing in the latest poll to newcomer Maura Healey. Healey, a one-time faceless prosecutor in the attorney general's office, may be on the verge of becoming the story of the 2014 cycle.

Coakley, meanwhile, finds herself in a familiar position, cruising through a Democratic primary with a far more competitive general election contest probably waiting for her on the other side. The difference between 2014 and 2010 is that Baker's formidability is more predictable than Scott Brown's.

With a week left before the polls officially open, Grossman and Berwick had little choice but to start roughing up Coakley as best they could. In press releases, media appearances and two televised debates, the Democratic trail runners took aim at Coakley's approach toward health care giant Partners, her settlement with a well-known lobbyist, and her general we'll-see attitude toward a number of issues that have driven the campaign narrative thus far.

But will it be enough? The final pre-primary Boston Globe poll showed a 20-point lead for Coakley (43 percent) over Grossman (23 percent), with Berwick at 13 percent.

The normally affable, low-key doctor went for blunt force trauma when given the chance on stage with his two opponents. Scott Brown was beatable, he said, and Elizabeth Warren showed that when she "drove him to New Hampshire." "I want to ask what every single Democrat in Massachusetts is wondering: Why is it different this time?" Berwick said, to gasps in the media viewing gallery.

Grossman and Berwick tried their best over the last days of the campaign to drive up Coakley's negatives, raise questions about her leadership abilities and present themselves as the best alternative.

The potential danger for Democrats, of course, is that they succeed, but still fail to topple her on Tuesday, damaging the nominee for the general election and setting up a few awkward moments next Wednesday morning when the party will "unite" over coffee and eggs.

By the end of the week, Coakley seemed to be enjoying herself. Indecisive and lacking vision or a contemplative leader, willing to listen, assess and avoid the types of kneejerk sound bites that can come back to haunt?

"Unsure, absolutely, because I am going to think about it," Coakley, smiling, told debate moderator Jim Braude Thursday when asked about a graduated income tax after initially saying she could "potentially" support it.
The Health Policy Commission came through with some fodder for Coakley's opponents this week with its finalized report on the proposed acquisition of Hallmark Health by Partners HealthCare that warned the deal could drive health care cost increases of $15.5 million to $23 million per year in northeastern Massachusetts. This came on the heels of a Center for Health Information Analysis report that total health care expenditures in 2013 climbed 2.3 percent, less than the state's new benchmark but faster than inflation.

Coakley said she plans to reengage Partners, in light of the HPC report, about the much-maligned settlement agreement the parties reached to resolve a long-running anti-trust investigation that would allow Partners to acquire Hallmark and South Shore Hospital.

Outside of the campaigns for statewide office, political leaders are torn over the question of whether Massachusetts should stick with its plan to build casinos. Polling suggests voters aren't ready to pull the plug, and with the Gaming Commission poised next week to decide between Everett or Revere for a Greater Boston casino site, the ballot campaign is shaping up to be a moneyed affair.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren chose Labor Day, of all days, to espouse her opposition to casinos after speaking to a room full of some of the most ardent supporters of the venture that promises loads of construction jobs. Her counterpart - Sen. Ed Markey - took the opposite approach, siding with the law's deference to local control.

Penn National, which holds a license to build a slot parlor in Plainville, has ponied up $1.275 million to defeat the ballot question seeking to repeal the state's 2011 gaming law, while Springfield casino licensee MGM Resorts International has dropped in $500,000. All this according to the hot-off-the-presses campaign finance filings that show five donors combining for $1.79 million.

Meanwhile, the campaign to repeal casinos posted $247,000 from 263 individual donors.

"We are focused on continuing to build the grassroots and going neighbor-to-neighbor, where we will win this. The out-of-state casino bosses can write big personal checks but they can't buy facts, they can't hide the mess they've already created here and the job losses, closed business and disappearing revenues we see in Atlantic City, Connecticut and beyond," said David Guarino, spokesman for the Repeal the Casino Deal group.

STORY OF WEEK: Warren Tolman, a former state senator and gubernatorial candidate, has a brother who heads the state's largest union, support from both the mayor of Boston and the popular sitting governor, and still could lose the primary for attorney general to an upstart attorney named Maura Healey.
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