Steve Grossman Shines, Martha Coakley’s Fine, and Don Berwick Whines

Your gubernatorial primary debate recap in a nutshell.

Photo via Associated Press

Photo via Associated Press

Steve Grossman delivered a terrific performance Wednesday evening, for what was presumably the most-watched debate of the Democratic gubernatorial primary. He was sharp and focused, demonstrated his mastery of state government and the seriousness of his proposals, and made some criticisms of Martha Coakley without making himself seem cruel or petty in attacking her.

He was also helped by Don Berwick, who chose moral superiority over voter persuasion. He did a fine job for what he was trying to do, but I don’t see any reason to think that what he was doing will broaden his appeal. That means Grossman should continue to consolidate the considerable anti-Coakley vote.

Unfortunately for the Treasurer, he needs a third thing: for Coakley to do something that drives some of her support away, either something that makes Democrats doubt her as governor, or makes them worry that she’ll lose the general election to Charlie Baker.

But Coakley remained smooth as silk and cool as a cucumber Wednesday night, doing nothing but reassuring her supporters who were watching—and, more importantly, providing no troubling news that will reach the attention of the broader electorate.

Let me make a couple of points about Berwick’s moralizing. I won’t even get into the silliness, as Mary Anne Marsh tweeted, of the guy polling in single digits lecturing the frontrunner on electability. But I will mention that Berwick also sniped at Coakley for lacking appreciation of the corrupting influence of the current campaign finance system. Berwick is currently running a TV ad mocking Coakley for sniping at Grossman over the exact same thing.

What’s really been bugging me are Berwick’s tirades over the absolute evils of casinos. This has been a major part of his shtick since he realized it was a differentiator for him in the primary, and naturally he gave another rendition Wednesday. I would be more impressed if I had some evidence of his grave concern prior to it becoming politically useful for him. In July 2013—right smack in the middle of the highly-publicized string of local casino referenda—Berwick delivered a convention speech that mentioned health care, education, transportation, environment, economic development, “the sick, the needy, and the handicapped,” gender disparities, “the troubled teen who sees a prison wall looming and can’t find a different way,” economic inequality, lack of culpability for Wall Street, struggling retirees, global warming, and same-sex marriage. But not casinos.

Berwick is often quite impressive talking about issues. His moralizing has taken over his campaign, and I find it tiresome—and I can’t imagine it’s helping win over the many primary voters just learning about him for the first time.