Business

Shirley Leung

Don’t vote for Charlie because he can cry

If Martha Coakley cries, the race is over. If Charlie Baker cries, he might win it.

Noooooooo. People of Massachusetts, you are better than this.

If the governor’s race comes down to Baker’s moment of near tears, we might as well turn off the lights, move to New Hampshire, and help elect Scott Brown.

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There are a lot of reasons why you should vote for Baker. But if you can’t decide between Baker and Coakley, the fact that he can cry should not be one of them.

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Because if Coakley was the one weeping at the debate table the other night, she wouldn’t get credit for it. People expect women to shed tears. If she choked up like he did, many would wonder if she’s tough enough — man enough, really — to be our next governor.

Voting for Baker because he’s a softie perpetuates a double standard that none of us should get behind.

I know, I know, some of you don’t like the idea of voting for a Republican, and you’re looking for a way to justify doing so. Blue blood runs deep in our state, and members of the GOP can be so coldhearted. You kind of like Baker, but you wonder if a guy so good with numbers cares about people.

When asked to recount the last time he cried, Baker started to choke up during Tuesday’s debate. He warned everyone that he might not make it through retelling the story of a New Bedford fisherman who told him he ruined his sons’ lives by not allowing them to go to college. The fisherman himself apparently had broken down in explaining how he forced his sons into becoming fishermen, a tough way to make a living these days.

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It was a confusing tale, even more so now as details trickle out. What exactly was Baker so upset about? Who is this fisherman he met in 2009? And is Baker so fragile that a five-year-old encounter could still make him weepy?

The only thing that makes sense is that those were stress tears, not tears of compassion. So does that count as a good cry or a bad cry?

No matter. What was done was done. A tightly scripted campaign season had left voters and media starving for authenticity. There were instant replays, front-page headlines, and photos of Baker, hand over his eyes, a Republican looking human.

The next day, I asked a more composed Baker if he thought there was a double standard in politics when it comes to crying.

“I don’t know,” he told me. “Voters get to make the call on thousands of opportunities — they have to judge the candidates on all sorts of things. I view this as one more thing they can judge the candidates on.”

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Baker’s show of emotion will have the biggest impact on the undecideds — who may well determine who wins this tight race — and that’s why there is so much handwringing over the crying game.

Charlie Baker’s show of emotion will have the biggest impact on the undecideds — who may determine who wins this race — and that’s why there is so much handwringing over the crying game.

This is a group that hasn’t been paying much attention until now, so moments like this — along with TV ads — matter. In the end, this race may come down to whether they should follow their head or heart.

Their head tells them Baker is the one. He’s got the right credentials to govern — having worked for two governors and then taking a turn as the chief executive who saved Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Massachusetts needs a strong executive, after management lapses under Governor Deval Patrick that left us with a drug compounding scandal, too many dead children under state care, and a malfunctioning health connector site.

But Coakley tugs at the heart. It takes a lot of grit to suffer a humiliating defeat to Scott Brown in the 2010 US Senate race and then decide to run again for attorney general. She went on to become one of the best attorneys general in the country, fighting foreclosures and big banks. And her gubernatorial campaign has been all about lifting up as many people as possible, starting in preschool.

So will Baker’s watershed moment end up stealing hearts away from Coakley?

Massachusetts voters, you’re smarter than that. If you pull the lever for Baker on Election Day, make sure it’s for the right reason.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.