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Democrats vying for governor power up primary effort

Quiet gubernatorial race picks up momentum for September vote

On Sunday, Democratic rivals geared up for the gubernatorial primary in September. Don Berwick attended the August Moon Festival in Quincy, where he cuddled two rabbits with a sun conure parrot perched on his shoulder. Martha Coakley greeted voters in the community room of Inwood West Apartment Homes in Woburn. And Steve Grossman spoke at an ice cream meet-and-greet with seniors in Lynn.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff; Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff (right)

On Sunday, Democratic rivals geared up for the gubernatorial primary in September. Don Berwick attended the August Moon Festival in Quincy, where he cuddled two rabbits with a sun conure parrot perched on his shoulder. Martha Coakley greeted voters in the community room of Inwood West Apartment Homes in Woburn. And Steve Grossman spoke at an ice cream meet-and-greet with seniors in Lynn.

MILFORD — In stocking feet and with his head topped with an orange turban, Don Berwick spoke to a Sikh congregation about social justice and fighting poverty.

In front of about 20 seniors slowly eating ice cream in Lynn, Steve Grossman pitched himself as a proven job creator who would help the state’s economy grow.

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Black coffee in hand, Martha Coakley comfortably glided through a cafe in Dracut, greeting supporters and then asking them to spread the word an important election is coming.

On Sunday, just over three weeks before the Sept. 9 state primary, the three Democratic candidates for governor campaigned across Massachusetts. And, they said in separate interviews, after months of a quiet race that has largely stayed off the radar of most residents, a wide swath of voters are on the precipice of finally tuning in.

Grossman and Berwick, who polls show are mired in second and third place, both also said their stars were poised to rise as the electorate engaged.

“It’s been a relatively tame, sleepy affair to date,” Grossman, the state treasurer, said after speaking in a community room in Lynn to seniors who peppered him with questions about everything from abortion to autism.

But, he predicted, the race “will burst into consciousness of Massachusetts voters” as the candidates begin a series of high-profile debates, most televised, in the days and weeks before the primary.

Grossman said the debates would allow people to “do the kind of comparison shopping that voters like to do” and would lead to an “immense amount of movement” in the contest. He indicated that the debates would boost him.

The ice cream meet-and-greet Sunday afternoon was his third of the day with seniors in Lynn, a campaign schedule that focused on an age cohort that tends to be reliable voters.

“I will tell you right now,” he said, “the person who is able to get significant support from older adults all over the state, that’s the person who is very likely going to be the Democratic nominee.”

The most recent Boston Globe poll of likely Democratic primary voters, released last week, showed 45 percent backing Coakley, the attorney general, 21 percent backing Grossman, and 10 percent backing Berwick, a former top Obama administration health care official.

Twenty-four percent said they did not know who they would vote for.

The margin of error was plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.

Speaking to congregants at the New England Sikh Study Circle in Milford, where he removed his shoes and covered his head in a nod to the religion’s customs, Berwick gave a short summary of his biography: a one-time pediatrician who served for almost a year and a half as the head of the country’s gigantic Medicaid and Medicare programs.

He emphasized his opposition to casino gambling in the state and pledged to end hunger and chronic homelessness.

“My ears are open and my heart is with you,” he said in concluding his remarks.

Berwick later told reporters that a TV ad he was launching on Tuesday — his first — would change the dynamics of the race as voters began to learn about the candidates.

The 30-second spot, shared by his campaign with the Globe, frames him as distinct from “career politicians only interested in winning elections.”

Berwick said the public had not yet tuned in to a race that has been underway for more than a year, but that was “starting to shift” as people began to educate themselves.

“It’s going to be a very intense three-week period,” he said, “but this is the awakening period.”

Berwick’s visit to Milford on Sunday came after a get-out-the-vote summit with supporters in Worcester and before he headed to the August Moon Festival in Quincy.

Coakley walked into Frobie’s Cafe in Dracut, which opened early for her to greet supporters, just after 10 a.m. Sunday.

She slowly made her way around the establishment, spending a few minutes with many of the three dozen people there, sipping coffees and languidly chit-chatting as the caffeine slowly took effect.

Coakley spoke to Steven Saro, a 52-year-old chiropractor from Westford, and then knelt to see eye-to-eye with his 9-year-old son.

“Hey Ben, how are you?” Coakley inquired of the boy, who is going into fourth grade.

In brief remarks to the crowd, Coakley asked them to alert their friends and neighbors that an election is coming.

“I need you to use your Facebook, use your e-mail, use your phone — tell people to get out to vote on Sept. 9,” she said. “I need you to help me spread the word.”

Then she was out the door and off to chat with voters in Woburn, knock on doors in Malden, and attend a house party in Cambridge and a festival in Boston.

Two Republicans and three independent candidates are also running to succeed Governor Deval Patrick, who isn’t vying for a third term. The general election is Nov. 4.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.
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