Former President Bill Clinton rallied supporters for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley on Thursday, as Republican challenger Charlie Baker faulted her for not doing more to disclose that a lawsuit she filed could benefit a nonprofit housing agency run by her campaign finance committee co-chair.
"I don't care what the polls say," Clinton told the crowd of about 800 at Clark University in Worcester, urging them to recruit voters who might otherwise stay home. "She can win this race handily if you want it bad enough."
Clinton argued that Coakley's record as attorney general proved she would take action on causes like expanding access to early childhood education and raising the minimum wage.
"I know something about both jobs," said Clinton, who served as Arkansas attorney general before he was elected governor of his home state in 1978. "Experience and performance matter. The record matters because what you did indicates what you will do."
Earlier Thursday, Baker said at a press conference that the fact Coakley didn't do more to disclose her relationship with co-chair Elyse Cherry when Coakley filed the lawsuit raises "serious questions" about Coakley's judgment.
"At a minimum, she should have disclosed the relationship to a friend and campaign finance co-chair as she moved forward on that particular piece of litigation," Baker said.
Coakley sued the Federal Housing Finance Agency and mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in June for refusing to comply with a state law allowing the sale of homes in foreclosure to nonprofit groups that intend to restructure the loan and sell the property back to the homeowner.
The Boston Globe reported that Cherry, the CEO of the nonprofit Boston Community Capital, contributed to Coakley's campaign and co-chairs her finance committee.
Cherry said in June that her group has helped restructure about 500 mortgages. She said they first make sure the homeowner is in stable fiscal shape before buying the home, structuring a fixed 30-year rate mortgage and selling it back.
Cherry's contributions are included in Coakley's public campaign finance reports.
Coakley faulted Baker for refusing to say whether he supported the lawsuit.
"I sued Fannie and Freddie because people will be evicted from their homes if we don't help," Coakley said in a statement. "Today, Charlie Baker chose to side with the Wall Street banks and Fannie/Freddie."
Baker said the focus should be on Coakley's conduct, not the lawsuit.
"The filing of the lawsuit is a judgment call she is entitled to make," he said. "But to file that lawsuit and not make it clear publicly that a friend and campaign finance co-chair stood to benefit from it is problematic."
During the afternoon rally in Worcester, Clinton was joined by Gov. Deval Patrick, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and other Massachusetts Democrats.
"To me, it's not an election if I don't get to come to Worcester," he said. "I love this place. I always have. I felt at home here the first time I ever came. I thought it would be better to come here and have a talk with you than give some whoop-de-do speech."
Also Thursday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney attended a Boston fundraiser for Baker. About 250 people attended the event, which was expected to raise about $600,000 for Baker, his running mate Karyn Polito and the Massachusetts Republican Party, according to Baker campaign officials.