Mass. Guv Race Thoughts

I'll be on WGBH-TV's Greater Boston tonight, previewing tomorrow's WGBH gubernatorial debate -- and tomorrow I'll be on WGBH radio doing analysis immediately after the debate. Please tune in, just in case I come up with any pearls of wisdom. Here are a few thoughts for now:

--On the issue of who gets to participate in debates, I tend to be a lot less worked up about it than some other folks. (But then again, I also think debates are way overblown anyway.) As I see it, there are two things that determine which candidates get to be in a given debate: 1) the demands of negotiators for the major candidates, and 2) editorial judgment of the groups running the debate. The first is a political reality: if the frontrunner says he'll only do debates that include the minor candidate, he'll probably get the minor candidate included -- or, he'll trade that away for an agreement that the candidates sit, or stand, or question each other, or not, or whatever. The second is something that happens all the time; news media outlets are constantly deciding how to treat different candidates -- for instance, do we assign a full-time reporter to that campaign? Do we ever lead with a story about that campaign? Do we make sure to ask that campaign for reaction, in a news story that includes the major candidates' reactions? Those decisions affect the way voters perceive the candidates, and they are made every day without any pretense of "objective" criteria. So, I've got no problem with the debate hosts using their judgment, to the extent they can through the negotiations to get the major candidates to appear. Generally speaking, I think that judgment should lean toward more inclusion earlier in the campaign cycle, and more exclusion later. And, I think as time goes on someone like Tim Cahill, a current state-wide elected official, deserves more deference than someone like Jill Stein.

--I get the sense that there's a real push-back brewing on Charlie Baker's ridiculous budget numbers -- with Scot Lehigh's column being a good example. The funny thing is, nobody really expects him to have a serious plan (or, if he had one, that it would have any chance of implementation). But, we have this important ritual here in the Commonwealth, where every four years the gubernatorial challengers say, with a straight face, A) that they will change the culture of Beacon Hill, and B) that they have a magic plan to cut the state budget by the amount of the current projected deficit. Deval Patrick said he would do it by cost savings through government reorganization. Mitt Romney said he had identified $1 billion in waste and duplication -- and when the projected gap doubled mid-campaign to $2 billion, he claimed to have identified $2 billion in waste and dublication. The problem with Baker is that he makes the required huge deal about balancing the budget, but won't even make up numbers for his magic plan that come close to adding up. (His plan is to double the $2.5 billion gap through tax cuts, and then implement $1 billion of cuts.) There's just something really, really insulting to journalists' intelligence that he won't even insult our intelligence by making up decent numbers.

--One of the remarkable things to me about this campaign is that most of the journalists seem to be so annoyed with Charlie Baker, they've forgotten all about how much they dislike Deval Patrick. I suspect they'll remember soon enough, and we'll start getting more pointed criticism of him and his campaign (again, see Lehigh).

--Suffolk University is conducting a poll now, that should be released tomorrow morning. If it confirms the latest Rasmussen finding that Cahill has plummeted to single digits, that would be a major blow to that campaign, and will allow Baker to really start concentrating his fire on Patrick. If, instead, it shows Cahill up in the mid- to high-teens, as previous polls have shown -- or perhaps even higher, thanks to the various pro- and anti- ads that have gone up recently -- then Baker's got some problems. However, if it is the former, I would advise Team Baker to hold back on the calls for Cahill to drop out. His inclination to do anything that would help Charlie pretty much vanished with that RGA blitz telling the Commonwealth what a sleazy, corrupt hack Treasurer Tim is. Piling on his when he's down will only make him want to take Charlie down with him.

--And finally, I'd be interest in what any of you are seeing, but I feel like I'm not seeing nearly as many signs and bumper stickers as normal for this stage of the gubernatorial campaign. Anyone else?

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