Few roles in a political campaign are as important, or sometimes as shrouded in mystery, as that of the debate prep partner.
The partner must don not only the ideology but also the mannerisms of the candidate’s actual opponent. That means striking the fine balance between honing the candidate’s skill and building his or her confidence.
Sometimes the job reaps handsome rewards. Coming to the aid of President Obama in 2012, Senator John F. Kerry played Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. (Massachusetts? Check. Hirsute? Yep. Wealthy beyond the average voter’s imagination? Certainly.) Later, Kerry was named Obama’s secretary of state.
Who, then, are the key actors as the gubernatorial candidates have begun debate season?
Playing the part of Republican Charlie Baker in Attorney General Martha Coakley’s practice sessions has been debate preparation veteran Jack Corrigan, a Boston attorney and longtime Democratic operative. Corrigan played Scott Brown for Elizabeth Warren in 2012 and helped John Connolly rehearse for Marty Walsh in last year’s mayoral campaign.
Another previous impersonator of the Baker persona is Warren Tolman, the former state senator who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination this year for attorney general.
On Baker’s side, the campaign’s policy director, Elizabeth Mahoney, has been playing Coakley. Press aide Tim Buckley has been occupying — with some gusto, according to a campaign source — the role of the three unenrolled candidates: Evan Falchuk, Jeffrey S. McCormick, and Scott Lively.
Billionaire former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose mission as a political financier has been to help elect moderates in both parties, endorsed Republican Charlie Baker on Tuesday, through a spokesman hailing Baker’s ability to work with both parties.
But Bloomberg plans to split the ticket in Massachusetts, also getting behind Democratic congressional candidate Seth Moulton.
The New York Times, which first reported Bloomberg’s foray on Tuesday, found that it comes as part of a multistate, $25 million effort to help back moderate candidates with television ads paid for by his Independence USA PAC, according to the Times.
Baker already enjoys a hefty financial advantage over Attorney General Martha Coakley. By Oct. 1, Baker had nearly six times as much cash in the bank as did Coakley.
A Baker strategist said the campaign was unaware of how much Bloomberg planned to spend on its behalf. Campaigns are prohibited from coordinating with super PACs.
In a statement circulated by Baker’s campaign, Bloomberg spokesman Howard Wolfson — a former aide to Hillary Clinton, who is expected to campaign for Coakley — praised Baker’s “highly impressive record of experience in the public and private sectors,” saying he had “always been willing to reach across the aisle to put taxpayers above partisan politics.”
Bloomberg’s move could come as a particular blow to Moulton’s opponent in the Sixth Congressional District, Republican Richard Tisei. Bloomberg was a longtime member of the Democratic Party before jumping to the GOP as he prepared to run for mayor in 2001. After winning a second term, Bloomberg became an independent.
Evan Falchuk and Jeff McCormick, two of three independent candidates for governor, were supposed to participate in a televised debate this month, but their invitations have been rescinded.
McCormick’s campaign called the decision “outrageous.” Falchuk said it was “flat-out wrong.”
In August the candidates were invited to participate in an Oct. 27 debate cosponsored by New England Cable News, the Telegram & Gazette, the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Hanover Theatre.
But on Monday Falchuk and McCormick received phone calls rescinding the invitation.
According to the chamber of commerce, neither candidate has enough support in the polls to warrant a place next to Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker, who polls show are essentially in a dead heat for the corner office.
Scott Lively is the third independent candidate running for governor. But unlike Lively, who has barely built a political organization, Falchuk and McCormick have spent more than $1 million each, much of it self-financed, on advertising and campaigning that has taken them all over the state. Yet Falchuk and McCormick registered support among just 2 percent and 1 percent of voters in the most recent Globe poll.
“Given the current polling data, our partners have decided to include Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker in our upcoming debate,” W. Stuart Loosemore, the chamber’s general counsel and director of government affairs and public policy, said in a statement. “We look forward to hosting an enlightening and vigorous dialogue between the two candidates later this month.”
Falchuk and McCormick asked how can such a dialogue happen when voices are being shut out of the debate.
“The voters deserve an opportunity to hear directly from the all the candidates on the ballot,” Peter Wilson, McCormick’s campaign spokesman, said in a statement. “By leaving out the independents, the media is doing a disservice to the voters of the Commonwealth.”
“I genuinely do not understand how we can call ourselves a democracy and then blatantly remove from the running the voices of any independent candidates or voters who do not line up with Democrat or Republican next to their name,” he said in a statement.
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