Republican Governor Charlie Baker and his opponent Jay Gonzalez are set to debate this evening ahead of next month's election. WGBH News will be carrying the debate on the radio, on television, and and online. It starts at 7 p.m. WGBH Radio’s Adam Reilly gave WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard a preview of tonight’s debate. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Barbara Howard: So what's at stake for the two candidates tonight?
Adam Reilly: I think the stakes are very different for Charlie Baker and Jay Gonzalez. Charlie Baker, according to every metric that we have, is headed toward a pretty easy win in November. He's had these remarkably strong approval numbers for years. When voters are asked if they're going to vote for him or Jay Gonzalez, they go with Baker by a really wide margin, so I don't think he's feeling very much pressure at all. Jay Gonzalez, I believe, is under a tremendous amount of pressure for the reasons that I just mentioned. We've reached a point in the campaign where I think even his supporters don't really give him much of a chance of making things competitive in November. He needs to find a way of convincing people that he has at least an outside chance at victory, so his supporters show up to the polls. A lot of pressure on him, not much on the governor.
Howard: Given all that, what do we expect the governor and Gonzalez's pitches to be this evening?
Reilly: The governor will continue saying that under his watch, Massachusetts has made progress in a number of different areas. whether it's education or responding to the opioid epidemic or building new housing. He will append the caveat, as he always does, that things are not perfect, but more needs to be done. But he'll say we're on the right track.
Jay Gonzalez, I think, is going to need to shift from what he’s done previously, which is basically to say no, the governor hasn't done enough in any area that you can think of and the state is just sort of treading water in every conceivable area. The problem for Gonzalez is that when you say the governor isn't succeeding anywhere, you kind of dilute your criticism of him in particular. So I expect him tonight to try to hone in on one or two areas and say here's a case where the governor is falling short and it's really problematic. We may hear him talk about the opioid epidemic, which is something Baker has worn his response to as a badge of strength. Gonzalez may make the point this evening that while fatal overdoses are down, overdose rates are not declining. Less people are dying because Narcan is more widely distributed, but I think Gonzalez might point out that overdoses are going up. I also expect him to work harder to try to tie Gov. Baker to President Trump. In their first debate, Gonzalez tried to do this sort of indirectly. He made a point of saying that Governor Baker had endorsed Geoff Diehl’s campaign for U.S. Senate. Geoff Diehl is taking on Elizabeth Warren, he is very closely aligned with President Trump, he played a leadership role in President Trump's campaign here in Massachusetts. The problem with that is that you're ultimately going after Geoff Diehl rather than Charlie Baker. Tonight, I expect a sharper pitch from Gonzalez. I expect to hear him say something like we’re at a unique juncture in American history, the governor’s criticisms of and push-back against President Trump have been muted at best, and at this point in American politics, we need more from the person who's running Massachusetts.
Howard: Well how does the program that Gonzalez is offering differ from Baker so far?
Reilly: The biggest difference is that Gonzalez is touting big new investments in things like education and transportation, and has proposed some somewhat controversial mechanisms to generate the revenue to deliver those investments. He's talked about taxing the endowments of wealthy colleges and universities, which even some Democrats have said is not too great an idea. And he's also talked about working to make the state's tax system more progressive. Governor Baker has retorted by saying first, it’s a bad idea to tax college and university endowments — they're a key driver of the Massachusetts economy, we don't want to do anything to make them feel unwelcome. And second, to make our tax system more progressive, you're going to need to legislate, you're going need to come up with a constitutional amendment that is going to take years to pass, if you want to make wealthy people pay more than middle income or lower income people. And Baker will also say that even if Jay Gonzalez follows through on his plans for generating new revenue, his proposed increases in spending are so big that he's not going to be able to come up with enough money to do everything he's talking about doing.