Debate Season Is Officially Upon Us

Can someone—anyone—catch up with Martha Coakley?

With barely two weeks until the state primary, the candidates trailing Martha Coakley need to use their ads and the media debates to try, somehow, to catch up with the frontrunner. That means picking the couple of areas of difference or criticism, and treating them as dire matters for the voters to hang their vote upon.

Monday morning’s Herald Radio debate among the three Democrats was not exactly high-stakes, regardless of what the tabloid’s columnists insisted in the paper. But, it at least had some media audience, which is a step up from forums like the one at Stonehill College last week.

That was when Steve Grossman first went on the offensive over the Brennan Group settlement reached by Coakley’s office. Herald moderator Jaclyn Cashman made that the first question this morning, so that’s a bit of a win for Grossman already. Coakley handled the question smoothly and impressively; Grossman tried to depict the settlement as a monstrous failure. Brennan was “allowed to walk, laughing all the way to the bank,” he said. It was part of a “pattern of bad judgment” that included Coakley’s campaign-finance reporting errors. He even noted that it “rises to being called a -gate.” Scandalous.

The debate ended similarly, though on a very different topic. Asked about Boston’s decision to not use local police to detain suspected illegal immigrants for detention, the three candidates essentially all agreed, but Grossman used the opportunity to make as much hay as possible over Coakley’s past positions on detention and other immigrant issues.

As for Don Berwick, he has made a Walczakian transformation from casino skeptic to raving, apocalyptic casino doomsayer, as the issue has proven the most attention-getting difference he has with Coakley.

That and other Berwick bickering is not, however, the sort of bickering that he sees when Coakley and Grossman disagree with each other— his word, from the Herald debate, in trying to position himself as the grown-up above such things (at least, when he’s not doing it himself a few minutes later).

Coakley seemed entirely unbothered by all of this. She neatly pointed out that Berwick’s “bickering” charge explains the intent behind what has been reported, first by me on social media, later in the Globe: that Berwick held casting auditions to find young Coakley and Grossman look-alikes, to play the two as children in an ad scheduled to be filmed this past Friday.

So, we can expect some picking on Coakley in upcoming ads, to go along with the few real media debates, beginning with one in Western Massachusetts on Wednesday.

So far, Coakley seems unperturbed by it all. The only significant return volley she gave in the Herald debate was a tweak at Grossman for using an out-of-state vendor to make some of his campaign signs. Hardly a major-league wallop, and she knows it.

Should she be worried? Probably not. After the debate, Herald Radio released a new Suffolk/Herald poll, which as Coakley leading among likely voters: Coakley 42 percent, Grossman 30 percent, Berwick 16 percent. That’s a slimmer lead than other previous polls, but still suggests she is nearly unstoppable.