They didn't ask that question at the 3rd Congressional District debate Tuesday in Westborough -- it might have seemed out of place on a dais where the candidates maintained a relatively collegial manner, with so many references to supporting whoever wins the primary on Sept. 14. However, each candidate was given the chance to ask a question to any two of his colleagues (or two questions to one), and we tracked each one down after the debate to ask whether the choice of whom to question gave any insight on who's ahead in this race of political newcomers trying to unseat Congressman James McGovern (D-Worcester).
Is Michael Stopa of Holliston the front-runner? He thinks so, and "I have the most articulated positions," to boot, he added in a quick interview after the debate. During the portion of the debate when candidates could ask each other questions, he and Herr were the only ones to be targeted twice by the same opponent -- Robert Chipman used both his questions on Stopa (he later said, "he's the [second-]best candidate, next to me"). Robert Delle also questioned Stopa. Stopa was asked whether he would voluntarily limit himself to three terms (no, he wouldn't make a unilateral limit, but he supports term limits in the form of a constitutional amendment that's binding on all candidates); what makes him think he knows the district after having been born outside it, and living several years overseas; and how he plans to stay in touch with the sprawling district, once elected (he hopes the contacts he's made in the campaign -- including Chipman -- will be his eyes and ears).
Is Brian Herr of Hopkinton the front-runner? He thinks so. Stopa identified him as the best fundraiser, "a really good resume" and the chief among his rivals. So did Marty Lamb, who said he believes the race is between he and Herr. Herr believes it's a three-way race, with he, Lamb and Stopa.
Is Marty Lamb of Holliston the front-runner? He thinks so, citing the support of Tea Party voters who recognize him as one of them. Delle used one of his questions to call Lamb "the master of the gimmick" and ask why he thought Congress could pass amendments to enact the line-item veto and a balanced budget requirenent -- key planks in Lamb's economic platform -- when the amending process is notoriously lengthy, and after the 1994 "Contract with America" Congress failed to make those proposals stick. Lamb said failure in 1994 shouldn't mean advocates should stop trying. Herr tossed a softball to Lamb, asking how he voted on a Proposition 2 1/2 override (a tax increase) in Holliston. Lamb said all three voters in his house voted "no." Stopa tried to tag Lamb as a Johnny-come-lately to conservatism, noting that Lamb had donated $500 each to Democratic leaders such as Ed Markey, Tom Daschle and Joseph Lieberman in 2005. The money, Lamb explained, was part of a lobbying effort to strengthen U.S. support for Israel; "I wasn't politically involved then; I am now."
What about the two Roberts? Neither one would identify a front-runner to CMassPolitics.com -- instead endorsing the field. Each was asked only one question from his rivals: Stopa asked Robert Chipman to talk about how he got involved in his local School Committee, in Plainville. Herr asked Robert Delle where he'd ever shown public leadership; Delle noted he'd been on the Planning Board in Westborough for more than six years. Herr, a selectman, said he'd still rather vote for a candidate who had "created jobs in the public sector."
Delle said his ties to the Worcester area -- he was born in the city and lives in Paxton after recently moving from Westborough -- make him the logical candidate to unseat the incumbent. "If you pull in someone from Middlesex County, they're going to have a hard time beating McGovern," Delle said. "As they say, 'he's a commie but he's our commie.'" Holliston and Hopkinton are both in Middlesex County, which hosts only four of the district's 28 cities and towns.
Later today we'll take a look at some of the issues discussed at the debate.
Update: Reporter's error -- Stopa didn't ask Herr any questions.