With Gloves Off, GOP Hopefuls for Mass. Governor Point Fingers
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 1998; Page A2
WORCESTER, Mass. For generations, Republicans in this famously liberal state have behaved like gentlemen as they marched toward ritual slaughter in November at the hands of Democrats.
Massachusetts voters, though, have shifted this decade toward the moderate center. With real power up for grabs, the Republican primary for governor is no longer ruled by good manners. It's mud-wrestling time.
"You have no ideas, no vision, no agenda to push this state forward. . . . You have run the most negative campaign in the history of the state," snarled acting Gov. Paul Cellucci in a debate here Wednesday night against fellow Republican and state Treasurer Joseph Malone.
"You're slicker than Bill Clinton," Malone fired back. "You talk about not being negative, you come at me totally negative."
Cellucci: "You are breathtakingly irresponsible."
Malone: "Paul, you know how you sound?"
So it has gone during a primary campaign in which Cellucci and Malone have accused each other of everything from dullness to cronyism to blatant corruption in office.
"The Republicans finally have something worth fighting for," said Louis DiNatale, a senior fellow at the McCormack Institute at the University of Massachusetts.
Eight years of GOP rule in the governor's office have coincided with a sensational run in the state's economy. Unemployment is at 3.1 percent, the lowest of any populous industrial state. Welfare rolls have declined for 60 consecutive months, 11,000 new teachers have been hired for public schools and taxpayers this summer got a $1 billion cut in income taxes.
When two-term Republican Gov. William F. Weld quit last year (for a failed attempt to secure an ambassadorial appointment to Mexico) then-Lt. Gov. Cellucci claimed credit for many of Weld's successes. He had a right to brag. Weld and Cellucci had worked as near co-equals with Weld as the on-stage charmer and Cellucci as the back-room detail guy to craft tax cuts and institute good-government reforms.
"The irony of this nasty battle in the Republican primary is that Weld-Cellucci have overwhelmingly demonstrated that the only road to victory in Massachusetts is a moderate road," said DiNatale.
Cellucci, assuming he gets past Malone, and polls strongly suggest he will, is given at least an even chance of winning in November.
Attorney General Scott Harshbarger emerged last year as the presumptive Democratic nominee when Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II pulled out of the governor's race because of personal and family problems. Harshbarger seems certain to win the nomination on Tuesday, polls show.
The fall campaign, then, will likely pit the strength of Cellucci's incumbency and the state's gangbusters economy against the 3-1 advantage that Democrats continue to enjoy over the GOP in registered voters.
A chronic and perhaps crippling problem for Cellucci is that while he inherited Weld's policies, he didn't inherit his charisma.
Like no Republican ever has, Weld, the scion of an old and very rich Boston family, beguiled voters and the press in this state that loves larger-than-life pols. Weld had a wicked tongue ("You can lead the House to order, but you can't make it think"), and he refused to take himself seriously. After a news conference, he once jumped into the Charles River.
With Weld gone and leaving no coattails, Cellucci, 50, who grew up in a family of Oldsmobile salesmen in the central Massachusetts town of Hudson, has struggled to overcome an image that he is a dull, if capable, technocrat.
The GOP primary has turned into an extended and noisy attempt by Malone, 44, who made his name in 1990 with a high-energy run against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, to paint Cellucci as too boring and too much of a closet liberal to carry on Weld's legacy.
"You're the one who's been spending at three times the rate of inflation like [former Democratic governor] Mike Dukakis," Malone said during the televised debate on Wednesday. "You're the one who has created budgets that are described by the Boston Globe as right out of the Democratic platform. . . . You have a borrow-and-spend mentality."
By national standards, of course, there is a element of absurdity in any debate among Massachusetts Republicans about who is and who is not liberal. Cellucci asked in a debate last week how Malone, who supports abortion rights, gun control and gay rights, could dare call himself a conservative.
With the L-word drawing no blood, Malone has gone increasingly negative as the primary has drawn closer. Last week he demanded that Cellucci explain nearly $700,000 in personal debts.
Those debts have been a sore spot for Cellucci. Since he became acting governor he has tried to explain them as the consequence of building an extension to his house, sending two children to college and working in a relatively low-paying government job. But rumors persist that he has a racetrack gambling problem, which Cellucci denies.
After months of being attacked by Malone, Cellucci stunned the state political establishment by going negative himself.
His campaign last week unleashed what has become known as the "doughnut ad." It speaks darkly of "a secret slush fund" in Malone's state treasurer office that uses taxpayer money for golf outings, Christmas parties, rock concerts and doughnuts.
"Now Joe Malone wants his hands on the $19.5 billion state budget," the ad says. "No wonder. At $3.50 a dozen, that's over 65 billion doughnuts."
Most of Wednesday's debate, the final major event of the primary campaign, consisted of Malone and Cellucci pointing fingers and accusing each other of disappointing voters by slinging mud. Amid the mutual recriminations, though, Cellucci succeeded in touting his impressive record of tax cuts, budget surpluses, job growth and putting thousands of new teachers into schools.
As Malone sputtered vaguely about a return to Ronald Reagan's principles of less government, Cellucci appeared well on his way to making a formidable run at the Democrats in November.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company