Martha Coakley after Monday's debate, which kicked off what will become a heated six weeks leading up to the November general election.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The gubernatorial candidates are viewing Monday's debate as the true beginning of the campaign for the corner office on Beacon Hill.
Most of the five candidates have been on the trail for more than a year either to win primaries or get a head start in an independent campaign. But, in Monday's debate the jockeying for position and try to separate themselves from the pack really took off.
"This was our first televised debate. I think there are differences here in earned sick time, early education, investing in people, good mental health care, the kind of things most people in Massachusetts, when they really focus on this race, will see that I will be a good governor, a great governor," said Democratic candidate Martha Coakley after the debate at Springfield's CityStage.
"I think that as we focus on our ground game, we'll get the vote out. This race has really just started. We're going to continue to push every day."
The attorney general is in a tie with Republican Charlie Baker in the polls. On Monday, two separate polls showed Baker and Coakley with more than 40 percent of the vote each and the three independents in single digits. So it is no surprise that they were focusing on each other's debate responses.
"I think we disagree on taxes generally. I think most voters in Massachusetts would like to see state government tighten its belt a bit because that's what they felt they've been doing for the better part of the last six or seven years," Baker said following the debate. "I said I am not going to raise taxes. The attorney general has left that wide open."
Coakley said Baker believes in tax cuts in hopes that the benefits "trickle down," which she said doesn't work. Baker used the gas tax as an example, saying Coakley supports linking the tax with inflation while he feels it any increase should be voted on.
"I think there are a lot of differences between Charlie Baker and me. Not just tonight but in the course of this race. I believe in early education and paying for it," Coakley said. "I believe in earned sick time. I believe women should have access to health care without question. I believe I will be willing to invest in our kids, our workforce development, our people in Massachusetts."
While the two leaders say there are dramatic differences between them, many of the hot topics during Monday's debate drew similar responses. Both said they support the MGM Resorts casino project in Springfield. Both said they want to continue investing in both early education and higher education — though their level of commitment differed. Both supported moving forward with medical marijuana as planned. And both talked about working with cities and towns to create an economic development policy.
Charlie Baker, left, is polling at just more than 40 percent. He and Coakley are in a dead heat for the corner office.
"I think the most important thing I bring to the table is a comprehensive vision to grow jobs and build great communities across the commonwealth. We've put that on our website. We've put specific details on that since we got into this race," Baker, a former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care executive, said.
While the two parties battle out their differences, the independents find themselves far behind. Evan Falchuk, Scott Lively and Jeff McCormick trail significantly in polling.
"It is not easy," said Falchuk when asked about closing the gap in poll numbers. "If it were easy, every one would do it."
But he isn't giving up. The entrepreneur says both of the parties are just giving "vague platitudes" in the race and his plan is to present specific viewpoints. He hopes to attract those who haven't picked a side yet.
"It is still early in this race. There is a lot of voters who aren't sure what they'll do," Falchuk said.
While Falchuk seems to be positioning himself as one outside of the current system, McCormick says he just as good, if not better, than the two party candidates.
"Charlie is not a typical Republican candidate. He has experience that Martha doesn't have. And Martha has experience on the legal side. I think we need real business experience to grow the commonwealth," the Boston venture capitalist said.
For him, the debate is all about exposure as he makes the point that he has just as legitimate a shot for the corner office as the front-runners.
Lively proved to be the least like any of the others. The evangelical Springfield pastor made waves with anti-gay remarks and a dismissal of climate change as a "scam." He's a well-known international anti-LGBT activist and a civil case accuses him of heavily influencing Uganda's harsh laws against homosexuals.
"The voters now know there is only one pro-life, pro-family candidate, who holds genuinely conservative viewpoints on the issues. I'm happy to be that candidate," Lively said.
One of his remarks triggered a sharp response from Baker, who felt Lively's statement that sexual perversion was corroding the state was a personal insult. During the debate Baker told Lively that was offended by the remark.
"I brought it up because it was pretty clear he was talking about my family. If you are going to talk about my family, you are going to hear from me. That is the way I am built and the way I work," Baker said after the debate.
Lively had another view saying, "that was a cheap shot by Charlie. I was not attacking his family. I am talking about the whole spectrum of sexual behavior outside of marriage."
When asked about offending others in the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage with such comments, Lively said, "these are people who are very easily offended. They have a completely opposite world view. I am sorry that they feel that way but I am not going to start legitimizing sexual perversion just because they are unhappy about it."
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