Trailing Democratic incumbent Deval Patrick, independent gubernatorial candidate Timothy Cahill launched a six-figure advertising campaign last week, while Republican Charles Baker called for five televised debates this fall.
The fourth person in the race, Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein, also issued a news release lamenting continued corporate tax breaks amid the start of a new budget year that includes a 4 percent cut in state aid to cities and towns.
Patrick, displaying a front-runner’s confidence, responded with a call for eight debates — including two in western Massachusetts — though he did not specify they be televised. He also specifically urged that the debates include both Cahill and Baker, underscoring the benefit he believes will come through a three-way race in which Cahill draws from Baker’s potential conservative vote.
Cahill’s ad brought to the airwaves a message that had been confined to the Internet for the past two weeks. His television commercial offered the simple imagery of him standing in a backyard, speaking to the camera, and decrying the $2 million in negative ads aired against him by the Republican Governors Association.
A series of polls have shown a precipitous drop in his political standing, down to 9 percent in a recent survey published by the Boston Globe.
“Washington insiders attacked me, while I was working for you,” Cahill says in the ad. “When they attack me, they attack all of us.”
Cahill, a former Democrat who serves as state treasurer, has been zealously guarding a $3 million campaign kitty. His fundraising has fallen off since he dropped out of the Democratic Party, and he has been using the Internet and a short televised commercial during the Super Bowl to try to remain viable without tapping that reservoir.
“The ad is good, but you have to wonder if it’s too little, too late,” said Democratic political analyst Mary Ann Marsh.
Patrick himself tried to set the tone of the debate, e-mailing a letter to his supporters that complained Baker refuses to detail his proposed plans for cutting the state budget. Patrick labeled it “reckless” as the Republican continues to talk about up to $2 billion in tax cuts.
“The simple difference is that he has not been straight with the public,” Patrick said in his e-mail. “This goes beyond thoughtlessness: It’s reckless.”
Baker bristled at the criticism during an afternoon news conference outside the Statehouse.
“I think he’s been reckless,” Baker said of Patrick. “He’s the guy who’s increased spending by $3 billion over the course of the past several years.”
Baker said such differences bolstered his call for five gubernatorial debates.
The former health insurance executive said with more than 300,000 unemployed in the state, a structural budget deficit yet to resolve and federal stimulus support for the state expiring, “This is a time when the voters desire a full airing of these issues.”
He proposed five televised debates between Labor Day, on Sept. 6, and Election Day, which is Nov. 2.
Baker said, “I would love to have the opportunity to debate the governor one-on-one,” but he would leave the format up to potential debate sponsors. Baker and Patrick continue to lead by a wide margin in the four-way race.
Baker said if two candidates were ahead of the pack near November, they should debate one-on-one. He recalled the epic series of head-to-head debates between his boss, former Gov. William F. Weld, and Sen. John Kerry during their 1996 U.S. Senate showdown.
Patrick said debates fit into his strategy of running a grass roots campaign.
“The governor hopes that Tim Cahill and Charlie Baker will join him in one debate a week between Labor Day in September and Election Day in November, for a total of eight debates overall,” said a statement from spokesman Alex Goldstein.
Baker has already accepted a Sept. 8 debate proposed by WBZ-TV. He, Patrick and Cahill also recently competed in a radio debate, and more are scheduled. But Baker said multiple televised debates were his preference.
Meanwhile, Stein complained in her statement that movie producers and biotech companies continue to receive breaks amid the national recession while state aid to cities and towns is cut.
She said voters “are looking for some way to end the giveaways” and redirect spending to town budgets.