Putting a face on the opposition

You’d never know by the civil face-to-face encounters across the state yesterday that underlying many of these contests is a nastiness – in some cases, outright disdain – for election opponents that seems to be quieted by the physical presence of the object of their ire. Then there’s the Tierney-Tisei race, but you already knew that.

Everyone expected a lively, and likely caustic, debate in the Fourth Congressional District between Democrat Joseph P. Kennedy III and his Republican opponent, Sean Bielat. Consider Bielat’s heated exchanges with Barney Frank two years ago and the tenor of his press releases and meetings with reporters about Kennedy’s lack of experience and charges that he is simply running on his family name. Most of the 200 or so people at the debate at UMass Dartmouth’s Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center in Fall River were waiting for Bielat to say something like, “If your name was Joseph Patrick instead of Joseph Kennedy…”

But Bielat could not have been more deferential to the man he’s trying to beat. Or even to Democrats in general, a far different tone than the one he set in his run against Frank. He even gave Vice President Joe Biden props for making “a great point” about political differences these days often translating to demeaning an opponent rather than disagreeing with them and finding compromise.

“I like Joe,” Bielat said, referring to Kennedy, not Biden, at the debate jointly sponsored by MassINC, CommonWealth magazine, UMass Dartmouth, and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. “I respect the fact that he’s getting out and campaigning and doing this. I haven’t seen anything that shows a lack of integrity or character.”

Kennedy was not quite so touchy-feely, making numerous attempts to tie Bielat to the budget proposed by Mitt Romney running mate Paul Ryan. Kennedy did, though, say Bielat has “a lovely family.”

Though it’s tough to say they agreed more than disagreed, it was hard to tell much difference on specifics that came up, especially local questions like a proposed casino in Taunton, which both demurred several times was a local issue. The Herald News did a Spotify treatment of tweets coming from the debate that wrapped up the sound bites in small bytes.

Both candidates called for campaign finance reform, and they concurred that jobs and the economy were the driving forces behind their campaigns. Kennedy cited his work as a prosecutor when asked how he’d negotiate partisan divides, while Bielat spotlighted his Marine service for teaching him about differences with others. The biggest chasm was over the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which Bielat says he’d vote to repeal while Kennedy said, other than a few “tweaks,” he’d leave standing. But it was Kennedy’s embrace of government’s role versus Bielat’s touting of the free market that spelled out the differences.

A couple hours later and 100 miles away in Springfield, Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren took center stage in the third of four debates in their tong war. The gloves stayed on and Margery Eagan notes that, after weeks of driving attacks, Brown has swung back into Mr. Nice Guy mode.

It’s hard to say who was more disappointed that most questions and answers stayed on policy rather than heritage – Brown or the Boston Herald. Brown did manage to get in a few of his favorite digs about Warren’s salary and her work for large corporations but they weren’t the sneering “You checked the box!” ripostes of previous encounters. The Springfield Republican account of the debate goes heavy on coverage of military cuts/base closings exchange. The editorial board concludes that the city is a big winner, too.

Warren appears to be finding her footing, looking more comfortable with each passing debate, but it would be hard to declare anyone a winner – except undecided voters who actually care about issues.

                                                                                                                                –JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

A Westborough company that has the same management team as the Framingham firm involved in the meningitis outbreak closes temporarily while state and federal officials perform inspections. Gov. Deval Patrick says the Framingham company was operating outside of the activities authorized by its license by shipping drugs in large batches, not just to fill specific prescriptions.

The state’s Group Insurance Commission issued a request for proposals that is expected to change the way 400,000 state and municipal workers are insured and save the state an estimated $1.3 billion, CommonWealth reports.

David Bernstein spotlights what he calls Senate President Therese Murray’s last campaign. “She is among a handful of the most powerful people in Massachusetts,” Bernstein writes. “And there’s a good chance she will lose.”

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A controversial mural in downtown Quincy depicting President Obama as Jimi Hendrix was defaced by vandals who splashed white paint on the face.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The US Supreme Court considers affirmative action policies at the University of Texas.

After drawn out negotiations, the John F. Kennedy Library secures permission from Robert F. Kennedy’s heirs to release seven boxes of papers related to Cuba from RFK’s tenure as attorney general.

ELECTION 2012

US Rep. John Tierney and his Republican challenger, Richard Tisei, square off in a Salem News debate that the paper describes as raucous, with the moderator having difficulty controlling the crowd. The Item in Lynn reports the audience was an active participant in the debate, booing, cheering, groaning, and shouting.

The Lowell Sun, in an editorial, criticizes Elizabeth Warren  for urging people to vote for her because she will prevent the Senate from going Republican.

Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos is putting North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida in the safe Romney column and says he won’t be polling in those states anymore.  A spokesman for the University of Virginia Center for Politics deems the move “a little out there.”

A Hanson businessman is defying town officials’ orders to remove controversial political signs and has mounted them on vans in front of his business and added more lewd signs as well.

Health care was the focus of the first debate between US Rep. William Keating, his GOP opponent, Christopher Sheldon, and independent candidate Daniel Botelho in the new Ninth Congressional District.

NPR (via WBUR) reports that President Obama still has an edge over Mitt Romney where it counts: the Electoral College. Meanwhile, Romney is moving toward the center. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll puts the two candidates in statistical ties in Florida and Virginia, while the race is tightening in Ohio. A new CBS/New York Times poll shows Obama sweating it out in Wisconsin and Colorado, too. The Atlantic asks whether Romney can make the most of his frontrunner moment.

In Ohio, Romney pitches cuts in taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest as help for the middle class — but National Journal says such moves will mostly help wealthy people living on investment income.

African Americans in Boston pan Romney despite his impressive debate performance.

Five things to watch for in tonight’s vice presidential debate. Here’s another five more. The Times and Journal both preview the debate, which has Gail Collins licking her chops.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A Beverly Cub Scout pack publicly rejects the Boy Scouts of America policy that prohibits homosexuals, the Salem News reports.

A high-ranking Federal Reserve official wants hard caps on the size of big banks.

EDUCATION

Former Gov. Michael Dukakis urges students at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill (his mother’s hometown) to get involved in politics, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

In City Journal, Heather MacDonald slams new federal education department efforts against “disproportionate minority discipline rates” in US schools, arguing there is no convincing evidence that minority students are being targeted based on race for suspension or other disciplinary actions.  

HEALTH CARE

For-profit Steward Health Care has decided to no longer accept a health insurance plan that covers some of the state’s poorest seniors.

TRANSPORTATION

Gov. Deval Patrick has set a March deadline for permitting for the proposed South Coast Rail project.

City and state officials talk about a Big Dig II. In Springfield. Not kidding.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

State and federal environmental officials reached an agreement with the owner of a former New Bedford company on a $366 million cleanup of New Bedford Harbor.

The federal government approves a massive wind farm project in Wyoming that could include 1,000 turbines covering 350 square miles, the Associated Press reports (via the Casper Star Tribune). Meanwhile, in the Berkshires town of Florida residents express concerns about noise from the recently completed Hoosac Wind project.

New software calculates greenhouse gas emissions at the street level, WBUR reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Annie Dookhan, the chemist at the center of the drug lab scandal, refuses to testify at the court hearing of a prisoner seeking release because of alleged tainted evidence, AP reports (via WBUR). The prosecutor in the case says Dookhan only notarized an analysis conducted by other lab workers.

MEDIA

The Orange County Register is hiring dozens of reporters, focusing on print-first expansion, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

At Chicago Ideas Week, the future of news is explored.