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The Deliberation Will Not Be Televised (Dispatch from Today's Lt. Governor Debate)

 

The funniest thing about lieutenant governor races is that candidates don't have their own placards. Instead, their name is a footnote on lawn signs and literature, a metaphor that hardly needs further explanation. Nonetheless, the massive function room at Suffolk Law School's Sargent Hall was jammed for today's debate, and, judging from the high interest level, that might have even been the case had organizers not provided box lunches.

At least two sidekick hopefuls are more likeable than their running-mates. State Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei – if you can stretch your brain around the whole gay Republican thing – is way cooler than Charlie Baker. Similarly; unlike his partner Tim Cahill, who, in Tuesday's headline debate crudely proposed to handle immigration with Arizona vigilance, former Republican state lawmaker and independent candidate Paul Loscocco enlightened without pandering to Tea Party bigots.

Standing Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray was no slouch. His “Mass is number one” in everything from ice cream to education schtick is convincing – so much, in theory, that the Republicans should maybe reconsider their “vote for the incumbents if you're pleased” pitch. Sadly, the same can't be said for Green-Rainbow nominee Rick Purcell. I'm a perennial third party supporter, but Purcell's lack of relevant experience, ill preparation, and inattention to detail reflect awfully on long-shot Jill Stein.

If the mission in a wing-man debate is to clearly trumpet your running-mate's goals and accomplishments, then Murray and Tisei more or less tied. As Purcell noted, virtually all of their exchanges echoed to the note those of their co-conspirators: Murray smacked Tisei about Baker's shameful Big Dig and Harvard-Pilgrim affiliations, while Tisei shot back about Democratic tax hikes, even throwing in an RMV jab as the bell sounded between rounds.

But if the point of such a showdown is to enhance the ticket, then Loscocco dominated. From his sincere intro to his gracious closer, the independent candidate addressed the roots of problems – such as linking unemployment to healthcare costs – and made his opponents look foolish in the process. Murray also scored, both with ideas and specifics, delivering a well-calculated job creation anecdote about his administration's support of the Winchendon-based sports equipment manufacturer Mylec.

The only real embarrassing moment for Murray and Tisei – aside from when Purcell essentially called them both whores, but “good guys” regardless – came when moderator Craig Sandler asked each candidate to name an opponent's policy that they admire. Tisei couldn't conjure one thing that impressed him, while Murray hastily applauded Baker's pension cap proposal, but quickly noted that it was really his idea. (Murray also refused to acknowledge a single issue on which he disagrees with the governor.)

All around, the joust was entertaining and even somewhat revealing. All four candidates seemed passionate, and, in comparison with the performance of their running-mates, they sounded relatively unscripted. This is great news for commonwealth residents who reluctantly prayed for Mitt Romney's health out of fear that sub-human Kerry Healey might have to govern. It's morbid to imagine death becoming our elected leader, but it's also a concern to be considered in November.

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