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Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls battle in final TV debate

For the second consecutive night, the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates clashed in a debate on Thursday that included a few testy exchanges between the front-runner, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and her opponents.

Speaking during their final televised debate, held on New England Cable News, before Tuesday’s primary, state Treasurer Steve Grossman noted that he had labeled Coakley’s job growth plan as “fake” when the candidates squared off the night before.

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“It’s just as fake tonight,” Grossman, who is running second in recent polling, said after Coakley discussed her jobs strategy, which includes investing in infrastructure and reducing health care and energy costs.

The attorney general fired back. “At least it’s a plan, which you do not have,” Coakley said, despite Grossman’s earlier remarks about the need to provide better training to workers and close a skills gap in the state’s older, industrial cities.

The candidates engaged in some additional jabs during the hour-long debate, which moderator Jim Braude kept at a clipped pace, frequently stopping the hopefuls when they went over their allotted time.

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The candidate running third in most polls, Donald Berwick, a pediatrician who formerly led the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, continued his effort to set himself apart as the antidote to his rivals, whom he described as “classical, traditional politicians.”

He reiterated his status as the only candidate who expressly supports repealing the state casino law and bringing a single-payer health care system to Massachusetts.

“Steve’s math [on jobs and revenue from casinos] is wrong, and Martha’s leadership is wrong,” Berwick said.

Early in the debate, Braude mentioned the conviction of John O’Brien, the former probation commissioner, on corruption charges and asked the candidates if they felt that Democratic hegemony on Beacon Hill was problematic.

Coakley touted her work in her office’s public integrity section, which she said has brought more than 70 cases during her tenure, including against fellow Democrats.

But Grossman pounced, saying that record “doesn’t wash with what she did with Jack Brennan,” a lobbyist and former state legislator whose firm was accused of collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in improper fees from a hospital.

Coakley’s office reached a settlement with Brennan’s firm, whereby it did not admit any guilt but agreed to repay the hospital $100,000. Critics of the settlement contend that it was too lenient.

The attorney general pushed back on Thursday night.

“Steve has made up facts,” Coakley said, adding that the settlement brought money back to the hospital and insisting the deal “was a good result.”

Berwick said his status as an outsider would shield him from playing favorites as governor.

“I owe nothing to any lobbyist,” he said. “I have patted no one on the back.”

The Republican candidates, Charlie Baker and Mark Fisher, are scheduled to debate on NECN on Friday at 6 p.m.

Travis Andersen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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