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^ Karyn Polito and Steve Kerrigan give all their Worcester-ness to their home region at their Worcester debate

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Last night, at Worcester Technical High School overlooking Lake Quinsigamond, the two candidates for Lieutenant Governor — Karyn Polito and Steve Kerrigan — debated for an hour.

The two may be running state-wide, but almost all of last night’s debate was about Worcester. Both Polito and Kerrigan hail from Worcester County — Polito was a five-term State representative from next-door Shrewsbury; Steve Kerrigan has been a selectman for many years in nearby Lancaster . The debate was moderated by a past mayor of the city, Ray Mariano; and many of the questions Mariano asked were Worcester-specific.

Often I felt like I was watching a debate between two candidates for a Worcester seat in the state senate.

That said, Polito commanded almost from beginning to end.

The first debate job of a Lieutenant governor candidate is to argue for his or her running mate’s plans. Polito did her work of discussing Charlie Baker’s plans — including economic development plans for Worcester — much more thoroughly than Kerrigan on behalf of Martha Coakley. Often, in his answers, Kerrigan didn’t mention Coakley at all. Polito failed to talk of Baker only once.

Polito had apter answers than Kerrigan to moderator Mariano’s specific questions, many of which were Worcester-specific or upside down. Asked by Mariano, “”what policy advanced by the other candidate would you adopt ?” Polito lauded Coakley’s plans to address violence agianst women. Kerrigan lauded nothing of Baker’s. It seemed an ungenerous moment.

On the other hand, Kerrigan agreed with many of Polito’s economic development responses and, generally, made an affable presence and gentlemanly, even if most of his answers came across conversational rather than authoritative.

Kerrigan’s strongest moment — certainly his most specific — was an attack on Baker’s record of fiscal management when he oversaw the “Big Dig”: twenty years ago for the Weld administration. Polito deftly countered by saying ‘we’re not running for twenty years ago, this campaign is about tomorrow.

Polito’s weakest moment was her answer to a question about welfare eform. She discussed welfare fraud but seemed not to grasp that almost all of it results not from recipients’ scheming but from incompetent management of the agency that oversees ‘transitional assistance.” But the baker plan for welfare reform really let her no choice. Welfare is the issue addressed leat convincingly by Baker.

Polito’s strongest answer was given to Mariano’s question, ‘why do we need a lieutenant governor ?” Kerrigan fumbled to respond — to a question he jokingly said he gets asked all the time. Polito pointed out that she and Baker are a team and have been one for almost a year, whereas the Democratic pair came together only by the result of that party’s primary. that Baker and Polito are a team has always been a major advantage to the Baker campaign; often there have been Democratic governors and lieutenant governors who, thrown together by primary voters, didn’t see eye to eye, and, in a few cases, hated each other. Kerrigan and coakley seem to be workling well enough together, but it’s as yet unproven. Whereas Polito made clear that the state might even benefit from having a lieutenant governor trusted enough by the goverbor to be a partner in the work of reform.

But all of the above took a back seat to praise for Worcester and even for its poiticians. it sounded odd to my Boston-based ears to hear both candidates laud former Mayor Tim Murray, who to say the least crashed and burned on the big stage and decided to resign his office. In Worcester, however, he’s a hometown hero.

The Commonwealth’s second city defends its own as it seeks to be noticed, even attended to, by the bigwigs in Boston.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere