Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker tangled in their final live televised debate Tuesday evening, just one week before Massachusetts voters choose their next governor.
In the early minutes, Baker and Coakley stayed cool as they reprised familiar attacks against each other at the high-stakes forum that aired on multiple broadcast television and radio stations and likely had one of the largest auidences of the gubernatorial race.
The hour-long discussion sometimes ranged into staid territory, as they delved into issues from their competing economic proposals to the state’s Ebola response to a state ballot question that would entitle workers to earn up to forty hours of earned sick time a year.
But the more unique and heartfelt exchanges came during a lightning round of quick questions and answers.
Both Coakley and Baker became emotional when asked about the last time they cried.
The attorney general said she cried Tuesday at a memorial service for a union organizer who had died of leukemia, the malady that claimed the life of Coakley’s mother.
Baker, face contorted and voice halting, recalled meeting a New Bedford fisherman whose two sons earned college football scholarships. But, the fisherman told Baker, he told his sons they couldn’t go and had to be fishermen, following in their family’s footsteps.
Tears aside, both candidates managed to telegraph their major campaign themes to the television and radio audience.
Coakley worked to use the ballot initiative which would entitle Massachusetts workers to earn and use up to 40 hours of sick time to draw a strong contrast with Baker.
Coakley supports Question 4, while Baker says he supports an earned sick time proposal, but not the one on the ballot because he worries about “the unintended consequences” of the “one-size-fits-all” initiative.
“I’m going to stand up for people who are working hard, who need that,” Coakley said, echoing a major talking point of her campaign. “He’s going to wait and see: well, maybe we’ll do this down the road.”
Baker used a discussion about a lawsuit against state’s troubled Department of Children and Families to argue that he is the candidate who work to make state government more efficient and effective.
“The real issue here is are we doing the things we should be doing as a Commonwealth to fix a broken agency — and in many cases to fix a broken state government,” Baker said. “I’ve said, since the beginning of this race, I don’t believe so. And, in many cases, have proposed significant proposals to fix parts of state government that are broken.”
With polls closing in less than seven days, Coakley and Baker both spent the final minutes of the debate reflecting on the journey of their campaign.
“I wouldn’t trade this for anything,” Baker told the debate’s three panelists: WCVB political reporter Janet Wu, WHDH political reporter Andy Hiller, and WBUR’s Morning Edition anchor Bob Oakes.
The Boston Media Consortium debate, broadcast simultaneously on WCVB-TV (Channel 5), WHDH-TV (Channel 7), WBUR-FM, and Bloomberg Radio, came as a newly released poll found the race exceedingly tight.
The WBUR survey, conducted from Oct. 22-25 by The MassINC Polling Group, found a close contest, with Baker leading Coakley, 43 percent to 42 percent. That’s well within the survey’s margin of error plus-or-minus 4.4 percentage points. It echoes other recent surveys which have found a close contest. Last week’s Boston Globe poll found Baker leading by 9 percentage points.
Baker, Coakley and three independent candidates — Evan Falchuk, Jeff McCormick, and Scott Lively — will face off on Nov. 4. The victor will succeed Governor Deval Patrick, who is not seeking a third term.