By Bob Salsberg, Associated Press

NEEDHAM, Mass. (AP) — Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley made their final pitches to voters in the governor’s race on Tuesday in a televised debate that pointed out sharp differences in policy but included some lighter exchanges and a tearful moment for Baker as he recounted a story of a struggling fishing family.

The candidates discussed a range of issues including taxes, job growth, the best response for states to Ebola and the tone of the campaign, which will end when voters go to the polls on Nov. 4 to choose a successor to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, who’s not seeking re-election.

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The final debate, originating from the WCVB studios and sponsored by the Boston Media Consortium, was seen as particularly critical for Coakley, who’s trying to shake off the perception her campaign may be losing momentum in light of recent polls suggesting Baker has surged into a lead.

The candidates, in a sometimes confusing exchange, both appeared to pledge not to raise state fees if elected.

It began with Baker, the former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, asking Coakley, the state attorney general, about past statements that she would consider raising taxes. Coakley responded that she had no desire to raise taxes and was hoping the state’s 5.2 percent income tax would come down automatically as the economy improves.

When asked if she would consider raising state fees to generate revenue, Coakley turned the question on Baker.

“I’m not going to raise fees,” replied Baker.

“Then I’m not going to raise fees either,” said Coakley.

After the debate, Coakley told reporters that she intended that response as a joke and a reference to the state’s last Republican governor, Mitt Romney, promising not to raise taxes but instead raising fees. She said she hoped taxes and fees would not have to be raised and criticized Baker for not explaining how he would offset revenue from tax cuts he has proposed for small businesses.

Baker said during the debate that Coakley has no plan to pay for what he claimed was $1.5 billion in new spending she has offered.

Baker and Coakley disagreed when asked if they supported the decisions of Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to have health care workers who had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa quarantined for three weeks upon their returns.

Baker said he thought the quarantine was “probably a reasonable strategy and one that should be considered in (Massachusetts),” adding that he thought the state’s planning for possible cases of Ebola patients had been disappointing to date.

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Coakley said the concerns of New York and New Jersey differed because of direct flights to those states from West Africa.

“I think they have risks because of flights coming into their state that we don’t,” Coakley said.

Among a series of quick questions during the debate’s lightning round was when the candidates last cried. In responding, Baker choked up and for a moment was unable to continue speaking while recounting a meeting with a struggling New Bedford fishing family.

“As a commonwealth we have done a terrible job of standing up for those people” he finally said.

Coakley said the last time she cried was during a memorial service Tuesday for a union official and political activist who recently lost a battle with leukemia.

Though the candidates have sharpened their attacks in recent weeks, both said Tuesday they respected the campaigns their opponents had run.

The debate ended with the candidates exchanging a laugh and a high five as Coakley, who in the past has fumbled questions about local professional sports teams, reminded voters that earlier in the campaign she was able to correctly identify Jimmy Garoppolo as the New England Patriots’ new backup quarterback.

As was the case in other recent debates, the three independent gubernatorial candidates on next week’s ballot — Evan Falchuk, Jeff McCormick and Scott Lively — were not invited to participate.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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