BOSTON – Massachusetts voters face a historic choice on Nov. 7 that could result in the state's first black or its first female elected governor, after the primary campaign whittled the major party candidates to Democrat Deval Patrick and Republican Kerry Healey.
While independent Christy Mihos and Grace Ross of the Green-Rainbow Party will also be on the general election ballot, Healey and Patrick showed from their acceptance speeches on Tuesday that theirs will not only be an epic, but also a high-octane contest.
Each is looking to succeed Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, who opted not to seek a second term as he considers a run for president. Although the Democratic Party remains dominant in Massachusetts, it has not held the governor's office since 1991, when Michael S. Dukakis finished his term.
"Make no mistake: This election is about whether we want more of all that, or lasting and meaningful change instead, about spinning our wheels or aiming high, about government by sound bites and slogans or leadership that strives to serve our long-term interests in stronger, safer and more prosperous communities," Patrick, a former Clinton administration official, told a cheering crowd of supporters.
Healey told her enthusiastic backers: "Beginning tonight, the choice facing voters in November finally comes into focus. This election will bring change to Massachusetts — but what kind of change? We will have an option: Will we have two-party democracy and balance on Beacon Hill or go back to a time when the people's business was done behind closed doors."
She added: "Deval Patrick's prescription of higher taxes, more spending and weaker criminal justice laws are just the type of change we can't afford to make and a risk we cannot take."
Patrick, 50, ran the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Clinton. He will be paired with Worcester Mayor Tim Murray, who won a three-way primary for the No. 2 spot as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
Patrick beat rivals Chris Gabrieli and Tom Reilly with 50 percent of the vote, despite making his first run for elective office.
With 98 percent of the precincts reporting, Patrick had 49 percent, or 442,500 votes. Gabrieli posted 27 percent, or 243,852 votes, while Reilly finished third with 23 percent, or 207,433 votes.
Healey, 46, the state's incumbent lieutenant governor, was unopposed in her primary. She will run on a ticket with former Rep. Reed Hillman, R-Sturbridge, who also was unopposed.
Healey's immediate predecessor, former Lt. Gov. Jane Swift, served as acting governor from 2001 through 2002 after Gov. Paul Cellucci resigned to become U.S. ambassador to Canada, but she did not seek election in her own right.
In her nomination acceptance speech, Healey sought to portray herself as a counterweight to the Democratic Legislature, the argument her fellow Republicans have used repeatedly since their string of gubernatorial victories began in 1990.
"I will fight to provide more public school choice by lifting the cap on charter schools, and will fight to stop cold any effort to weaken MCAS. I will fight for merit pay for the best teachers, and to give parents more information on how well their kids are learning," Healey said. "These priorities aren't welcomed by the status quo on Beacon Hill, and that's why I'm convinced they're not only needed, they're necessary."
In his acceptance speech, Patrick declared: "I don't have all the answers; no candidate does. But I do bring a broader range of leadership experience in government, in business and non-profits and community groups than any other candidate in this race."
He also offered a quick retort to his leading rival, saying: "Kerry Healey was gracious when she called me this evening. But Kerry Healey, if the best you have is what divides us, let me tell you something, I heard from the grass roots all over the commonwealth: We have had enough of that."
It had been a close race among the three Democrats until the last few weeks leading up to Tuesday's primary, when Patrick began to pull away.
Reilly, the state's two-term attorney general, had been considered an early favorite because of longtime political roots.
His campaign faltered in January, after he acknowledged calling the district attorney investigating the death of the daughters of a campaign contributor, and after his choice for a running mate — Rep. Marie St. Fleur, D-Boston — quit after one day following the disclosure of financial problems.
The primary loss, the first of his career, likely ended his career in elective office.
Reilly, 64, told his supporters: "Hey folks, we gave it everything we had. It just didn't work out for us."
Patrick, Reilly said, "has my congratulations and he has my support. It's time to end 16 years of Republican governors, and I will help him do that."
Gabrieli, a 46-year-old Boston venture capitalist, spent over $8.4 million of his own money funding his campaign.
He also offered his congratulations to Patrick, but used his concession speech to lash out at Healey for a television ad she began running last week that suggested he was supporting stem cell research in Massachusetts to boost his personal investments.
Gabrieli labeled the commercials "cynical and dishonest attack ads" and added: "I believe and I know you believe the people of Massachusetts deserve better than this from anybody who wants to be their governor."