- Associated Press - Monday, October 27, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley sharpened their attacks on each other during their next-to-last televised debate for Massachusetts governor.

Coakley defended herself against a Boston Globe report in which former inspector general Gregory Sullivan said Coakley urged him to pull back from an investigation into former Democratic Massachusetts House speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who was convicted in 2011 of federal corruption charges and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Coakley said during Monday’s debate on New England Cable News that Sullivan is “either flat-out lying or flat-out wrong.”

“That never happened,” Coakley said. “I never said that.”

Baker defended Sullivan and said Coakley had engaged in “character assassination” in an attempt to discredit Sullivan.

Coakley pointed out Baker had accepted campaign donations from a DiMasi associate, businessman Richard Vitale, who was charged along with DiMasi and acquitted. In 2011 Vitale pleaded guilty to state lobbying and campaign finance violations in an unrelated case.

“I prosecuted convicted felons and you’re taking contributions from them,” Coakley said to Baker.

Baker said he would return the $375 in contributions he received from Vitale this year.

Baker also said he regretted donating $10,000 to the New Jersey Republican Party in 2011, shortly before the state’s pension fund invested in General Catalyst at a time when Baker was an executive-in-residence for the venture capital firm.

The investment is the subject of an ongoing review by auditors for the New Jersey treasury department to determine if General Catalyst complied with state regulations regarding the disclosure of political contributions from employees.

A probe into the donation isn’t scheduled to be made public until after the election.

Baker said he hired an investigator to review the donation. Baker said the investigator concluded he’d didn’t have to take any remedial action.

“I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong,” Baker said, noting that the pension fund made a profit when it sold the investment.

Asked if he regretted the donation, however, Baker said: “Well, yeah.”

The two also sparred on welfare, taxes, immigration, and to how best to improve the economy in the state’s urban areas and minority communities.

Asked about whether immigrants in the country illegally should be able to get Massachusetts drivers licenses, Coakley said she didn’t know. Baker said “no.”

They also differed on education proposals. Baker pointed to his proposal to lift the cap on charter schools while Coakley again said she wanted to eliminate a waiting list of 17,000 children seeking state vouchers for prekindergarten programs.

Both said they were done with politics if they lost.

The race remains tight.

A poll released Monday by the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and WHDH-TV found 45 percent of those polled favored Baker while 41 percent supported Coakley.

The telephone poll of 601 likely Massachusetts voters was conducted between Oct. 21 and Oct. 25 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. Eight percent were undecided. The three independent candidates received a combined 6 percent.

A Boston Globe poll released last week showed Baker with the support of 45 percent of those polled compared with 36 percent for Coakley, with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Independent candidates Evan Falchuk, Scott Lively and Jeff McCormick weren’t included in the debate and haven’t been invited to Tuesday’s debate.

Monday’s debate was sponsored by the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Telegram & Gazette and Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.

The election is Nov. 4.

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