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‘She needs a forum to improve’: Chang-Díaz challenges Healey to debate before June, signaling shift in strategy

State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz has challenged Attorney General Maura Healey to three live, televised debates.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz on Thursday challenged Attorney General Maura Healey, her opponent in the Democratic primary for governor, to three live, televised debates before June, a move some political experts say signaled concern over her level of support at the state’s Democratic Party Convention.

“Democrats deserve to hear publicly from their candidates for governor on the important issues facing us,” Chang-Díaz wrote in a March 24 letter to Healey. “This moment calls for leadership that is willing to answer the tough questions and provide fearless commitment to the residents we serve.”

The Boston senator asked Healey to commit to “three moderated live, in-person debates sponsored by media organizations throughout our state” before June 4, when Democrats will meet in Worcester to vote on their party’s official endorsements and determine which statewide candidates will make the ballot for the Sept. 6 primary.


A spokesman for Chang-Díaz’s campaign said she has accepted an invitation from at least one debate host, but declined to share specifics.

A spokeswoman for Healey said she has participated in “dozens of caucuses and candidate forums” and will participate in debates before the primary election in September.

Healey is leading Chang-Díaz by just about every measure — poll numbers, name recognition, and fund-raising — and experts say Chang-Díaz’s debate challenge is a recognition that she needs to improve her support.

In late January, a MassINC poll found that 48 percent of likely Democratic primary voters supported Healey, compared with 12 percent for Chang-Díaz and 3 percent for Harvard professor Danielle Allen, who left the race last month. To make the primary ballot, candidates must receive the support of at least 15 percent of delegates.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports, Healey had $4.2 million in donations, compared with $351,000 for Chang-Díaz.


“The [debate] challenger is recognized generally as the trailer,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “The timing suggests that she needs a forum to improve her standing prior to the convention because there could be a fear that she doesn’t reach the threshold to be placed on the ballot.”

A Chang-Díaz campaign spokesman there is “zero concern” about the senator making it onto the primary ballot, and an internal memo sent to supporters stated that the “vast majority” of delegates remain undecided in the gubernatorial primary.

The memo also asserted that Chang-Díaz can make strides by distinguishing herself from Healey on issues of racial justice, education, and health care, and by building a coalition of progressive and working-class voters, as well as voters of color.

Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist who is not working with either campaign, said Chang-Díaz’s letter signals a lack of confidence heading into June.

“This is a sign of a campaign that today is concerned they may come up short at the convention,” she said.

Samantha J. Gross can be reached at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.