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^ some points, often not clear, versus the big picture sharply : Martha Coakley and Charlie baker at massachusetts TLC Forum in cambridge yesterday

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The battle is joined, and the result of first clash is quite clear, at least to me : Baker wins.

The Globe this morning opines that neither candidate satisfied the attendees at the Massachusetts TLC Forum at Microsoft’s Complex in Kendall Square, Cambridge. Their reporter must have been at a different Forum than I witnessed. Baker’s answers wowed many, reporters included.

But first, Martha Coakley, who spoke before Baker did. A gentle presence, trying hard to be friendly, Coakley provided a rambling commentary that I found difficult to follow even though I am required, as a journalist, to pay close attention. She spoke rapidly, often giving legalese answers to policy questions; even when thrown a soft ball — a question about non-compete contracts, which she as Attorney General, has dealt with recently — she laid out no basic principles and offered no conclusion. Should our state allow them, or not ? Coakley did not say.

Coakley spoke most clearly when she said that she would continue Governor Patrick’s commitment to the state’s biotech and technology industry. Most of her other answers with a discernable message involved laying out her plans for education and for bringing at least some measure of Boston-Cambridge technology to the western part of the state. Here she cited her growing up in North Adams — a city that has long struggled with declining economy — and knowing just how technologically unconnected much of “the west’ continues to be.

then it ewas Baker’s turn. In his opening, and in answers to “Q and A,’ baker connected the future success of Massachusetts technology business to “aligning education with the communities it serves,” to creating affordable housing fior young techies to live in — so that they don’t just move away to where housing costs much less — and to making it easier for businesses to start up and expand. as Baker said, “if there’s an easy way to do things in state government and a complicated way, we do it the complicated way every time.’ He added, “I’d like to create a technology group and ask it come up with a new model for state government’; and “it shouldn’t take ten years for a business to get perrmits that in other states take six months.”

Baker spoke clearly, in sentences quotable (as you have read above) and authoritative, precise, doable, delivered with confidence by a man relaxed yet passionate. Like Coakley, he laid out his education plan, his reform of government priorities, his region by region focus (and knowledge), and illustrated how the technology community’s work fits into, or can be made to fit into, the whole.

i have seen Baker often, all year long, speaking to large audiences and small in all manner of settings. Alwyas he speaks well and convincingly, but his Forum presentation was the bsst yet that i have seen.

I did not watch the Springfield debate, but I followed people’s tweets of it, and from what was tweeted, there were few surprises. Except that Coakley has — finally — embraced an agenda; gone in the vagueness, the refusal to commit or state a ;position. It’s likely not enough. She has points to mael that baker does not make, and there are indeed differences in the two candidates’ priorities; but Coakley offered no overall vision, no urgency of administrative accomplishment — she sounded more like a candidate for the legislature than for governor — whereas Baker offered the big picture as well as the details within it.

The one surprise that I learned of belonged to Baker, who bluntly called out the anti-gay rhetoric of right-wing candidate Scott Lively and thereby committed himself all-in to a support for gay people that some Coakley supporters have misrepresented about him even though thy know better.

So much for the first battle. there will be more. Perhaps the debates will move the eight to 10 percent of voters who polls say remain undecided. My own view is that debates do not decide most elections. Last year, in the Boston Mayor race, Marty Walsh was often at a loss for words, in the second debate embarrassingly; yet it mattered not a whit. I doubt that the debates will shake up this race either. It is quite clear by now who Martha Coakley is or is not and who Charlie Baker is or is not. Voters as yet undecided will likely make their decision on grounds both complex beyond pundit analysis or simpler than any palpable reason.

The campaign now controls the candidates, not they the campaign. Who steers its current better will win.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere