CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick accused his two leading rivals of "talking the commonwealth down" amid a forum Monday that featured some of the sharpest exchanges yet between him, Republican Charles Baker and independent gubernatorial candidate Timothy Cahill.
Baker, running about even with Patrick in the polls, pounded away on the state's business climate, saying it's too heavy on taxes and regulation and not friendly enough to corporations that can provide job growth.
"This is a No. 1, Day 1 problem in a Baker administration that we go after," he told members of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.
Cahill, a former Democrat serving as state treasurer, said all industries deserve help. "We must lower taxes across the board and not just focus on picking winners and losers," he said.
Patrick, the Democratic incumbent, strongly rebutted both his rivals throughout most of the nearly 90-minute forum.
At one point, sitting to the left of Cahill and Baker, Patrick said, "I am often reminded that the gentlemen to my right have spent twice as much time on Beacon Hill as I have and accomplished half as much."
At another point, he again hit both his rivals, saying, "One thing that would help is to have candidates out there who aren't always talking the commonwealth down, as we have right now."
And yet one more time, Patrick followed up their remarks by saying, "Sometimes I listen to my colleagues here and I wonder where the can-do attitude of America has gone."
The debate was the first meeting since Friday's tumult, in which Cahill's running mate quit the ticket and endorsed Baker's campaign. Former Republican state Rep. Paul Loscocco said Cahill could no longer win and that staying in the race would split the anti-incumbent vote and allow Patrick to be re-elected.
Baker said after the debate that he would not hire Loscocco if he's elected governor.
Cahill's supporters had an equally emphatic answer for Loscocco: They used large swaths of black tape to cover his name on some of the thousands of black-and-white campaign signs the running mates had printed.
The fourth candidate on the Nov. 2 ballot, Jill Stein of the Green-Rainbow Party, was excluded from the forum amid lagging poll and fundraising numbers.
During the debate, all the candidates said they oppose a ban on gifts to doctors from the pharmaceutical industry that Patrick signed into law in 2008. All argued it has since been superseded by new federal transparency guidelines.
Cahill said the measure made doctors and pharmaceutical employees feel like criminals.
Baker, a former budget chief with Gov. William Weld's administration and president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, recalled going to conventions and seeing signs warning that workers from Massachusetts were banned from accepting free pens or other trinkets.
He blamed Patrick on a "lack of leadership" for not repealing it during the recent legislative session.
The governor said his goal is to align the state ban with the federal rules. If the state ban can be eliminated, he said, "I'm there."
The candidates also disagreed about how much the state should focus on the biotechnology industry as it rebounds from the national recession.
Cahill advocated across-the-board tax cuts to boost all industries, while Baker said the state needs to strength its own balance sheet if it hopes to make strategic investments in anything.
Yet Patrick said he was proud to have signed a $1 billion life science initiative shortly after taking office in 2007. He argued the industry is one of the state's strengths and needs to be supported.
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