Governor Candidates Bicker in Debate

Republican gubernatorial candidate W. Mitt Romney squared off against Democrat Shannon P. O’Brien in an inconclusive debate last night at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The event was the second of three debates leading up to the state’s Nov. 5 general election.

Growing somewhat heated as the night progressed, the debate saw the two candidates trade jabs outside the structure of the debate’s question-and-answer format.

Attempting to moderate was CNN’s Judy Woodruff, who tried to keep order as the two sparred on issues ranging from health care and education to the state’s budget crunch and debt burden. The candidates focused on clarifying their own stances while highlighting their mutual differences.

On the issue of school vouchers, the two exchanged back-and-forth comments after O’Brien challenged Romney to join her in sending a letter to President Bush opposing vouchers on the federal level.

Romney insisted that he thought vouchers were not appropriate at the state level, but indicated his support for federal voucher funds for certain public schools.

Put on the defensive after a panelist’s question highlighted her changing support of abortion rights during her early days as a state senator, O’Brien defended her overall record of supporting a woman’s right to choose.

“I became aware,” she said of her early career, “that a woman’s health included the right to control her own body, and I did shift my position on abortion.”

At the same time, O’Brien attacked Romney for his “multiple choice” stance on the abortion issue—a phrase coined by Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy ’54-’56 (D-Mass.) in defending his seat from Romney in 1994.

“It comes down to a matter of trust,” she said. “People know that they can trust me on this issue.”

Romney countered by telling a story of his mother’s unsuccessful bid for a senate seat which he asserted she lost because of her stance in support of abortion rights.

“Let me be clear,” he said. “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose, and this should not be made a political issue in this campaign.”

Each candidate also offered differing strategies for dealing with the state’s economic and fiscal woes.

Romney argued that his two-pronged strategy, focusing both on helping troubled in-state companies and recruiting new companies to the Bay State, would be effective.

O’Brien attacked Romney’s plan, saying he put too much emphasis on bringing new business into Massachusetts.

“My opponent doesn’t understand,” she said. “We will [generate] increased tax revenues by growing the companies that are already here.”