The first question to begin the final televised debate between Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl and Democratic rival Maura Healey had nothing to do with Massachusetts.
“Did Joe Biden win the 2020 election?” WCVB politics reporter Ed Harding asked both candidates, starting with Healey.
“Yes,” Attorney General Healey said, with no hesitation.
“Absolutely,” former state Rep. Diehl said with equal alacrity. “Of course Joe Biden is our President. Our 401Ks are becoming 201Ks.”
The pair met Thursday night for their second and apparently last televised meeting ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, in a debate hosted by WCVB, the Boston Globe, WBUR, and Univision-TV.
The debate between Healey and Diehl consisted of conversations about the 2020 election, abortion and illegal immigration, but didn’t spend a terrible amount of time focusing on issues particular to the commonwealth.
The Corner Office hopefuls didn’t touch on the problems plaguing the MBTA, for example, until more than 40 minutes into their one-hour meeting. They touched on the state’s longstanding housing crisis but briefly.
Despite this, Harding’s opening question was uncharacteristically poignant this election cycle, when national politics have so obviously bled into local contests.
Diehl’s response to the 2020 question, his saying that Biden is president, comes following and despite his long-standing stated belief that there were enough problems with the 2020 election to wonder at the outcome.
He’s former President Donald Trump’s chosen candidate to replace outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker, and it’s Trump’s claims that the election was stolen that Diehl has essentially parroted, in one form or another, for months. No court has recognized those claims.
Diehl used the debate as an opportunity to distance himself from decisions made this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court and in the various states restricting a woman’s right to choose an abortion, saying he would, as governor, simply enforce the laws of the Bay State as written. The state passed broad abortion protections following the court’s decision to overturn the 1973 case legalizing abortion nationally.
“When Roe V. Wade came down with the Dobbs decision, I agreed with it,” he said. “My job is to protect women’s health care issues and I will do that.”
Healey said there is no reason to believe Diehl when, using Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as an example, Republicans have so often said one thing publicly and done another when it came time to make policy.
“I just don’t believe that,” Healey said.”This is a race where my opponent celebrated when Roe was overturned. He celebrated.”
“My opponent thinks that the government is the solution to everything,” Diehl said to close out the debate. “My goal is to provide you with more freedom.”
“I’d be honored to be your governor,” Healey said. “We are going to go to great places in this state, working together.”
The debate was well moderated, but that is perhaps an effect of Diehl’s energy, which began low and didn’t improve as the conversation carried on. He stumbled at points, apparently unsure of his answers, while Healey appeared prepared.
He’s also currently trailing Healey in the polls by more than 20 points.