By Matt Murphy

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE -- Democrat Steve Grossman, promising a "barnburner" final six days of the primary campaign for governor, has begun to more actively paint frontrunner Martha Coakley as an indecisive public official.

On the eve of two key debates and facing a daunting polling deficit, Grossman believes that voters, many of whom may be just tuning into the race for governor, will make up their minds "late," and he hopes to leave people with a positive impression of his campaign in two televised debates this week, including the first one Wednesday night.

In a preview of what might be in store for Coakley on the debate stage, Grossman on the radio Wednesday afternoon described the attorney general as a political leader who is too willing to sit on the fence on important issues.

"Martha, all too often when she's asked a tough question, she says, 'Well, I'm open to it. I'm open to that. I'm open to that.' You know, I think you've got to be decisive. Voters may say, 'I don't like that position. I don't agree with that position.' But I think being decisive and taking stands is important," Grossman said during an appearance on Boston Public Radio with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.

Grossman cited Coakley's stated openness to consider granting driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants (which Grossman supports) and her willingness to consider licensing a casino in Springfield even if voters repeal the state's casino gambling law on the ballot in November (which Grossman opposes).


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In a press release on Tuesday, Grossman also highlighted Coakley's stated positions of being "open" to increasing the earned income tax credit and changing the political donation limits for organized labor groups.

Coakley's campaign responded to the criticism by pointing out Coakley's work to protect homeowners from foreclosure, her successful challenge of the Defense of Marriage Act and her actions against utilities and health insurers for the benefit of consumers.

"As governor, she will create an economy on our terms, not Wall Street's, by giving all of our children access to early education, making higher education affordable, investing in our regional economies, cutting red tape and streamlining regulations for new and established businesses, providing earned sick time for all workers, and ending the stigma around and increasing access to mental and behavioral health services," spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin said in an emailed statement.

The three Democrats running for governor - Coakley, Grossman and health care administrator Don Berwick - will square off in a televised debate Wednesday night sponsored by a Boston media consortium that includes the Boston Globe, Channel 5, Channel 7, WBUR and Bloomberg.

The final debate before the Sept. 9 primary will take place Thursday night when all three appear together on Jim Braude's "Broadside" show on NECN.

Grossman has three campaign events planned before Thursday's debate, including stops in Salem, Leominster and Fitchburg for a roundtable discussion with Mayor Lisa Wong about Fitchburg State University's biotechnology program.

In polls released Tuesday night from UMass-Lowell/7News and Wednesday morning from WBUR/MassINC, Coakley held comfortable double-digit leads over Grossman and Berwick. Coakley led Grossman 47-23 in the WBUR/MassINC poll and the attorney general posted a 52-20 advantage over the treasurer in UMass-Lowell/7News survey.

Berwick polled in single digits in both surveys.

Grossman also released a new television advertisement on Wednesday, highlighting his endorsement from the Boston Globe and the newspaper's plaudits for his economic vision for Massachusetts and record of job creation as a businessman and treasurer.

Grossman has not come down firmly for or against every proposition presented to him during the course of his campaign for governor.

When it comes to Berwick's push for a single-payer health care system to improve efficiency and root out administrative expenses, Grossman favors a public dialogue about the government run health care option.

Grossman has also left tax increases on the table, though he considers them a last resort if sufficient new revenues for priorities like universal pre-kindergarten don't materialize through economic growth, casino revenues and savings. 

Asked whether Coakley's cautious approach might be beneficial rather than having to reverse a quickly taken position as Grossman did on the attorney general's acquisition agreement with Partners HealthCare, Grossman said he took his cues on the Partner's deal from the Health Policy Commission and its chairman Stuart Altman.

Grossman said he modified his position to oppose the deal only after all the details of the negotiated settlement were released, and Altman and the HPC raised concerns about it impact on consumer costs.

"I do take my guidance from people who are smarter than I am," he said, professing to not be an expert in health policy.

Highlighting his efforts to reinvest taxpayer dollars in local banks rather than overseas funds as a way to spur small business lending in Massachusetts, Grossman said he would bring the same creative approach to the governor's office.

"It's a style of leadership. I've been an activist treasurer . . . Imagine what I can do as an activist governor," Grossman said.