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MIDDLESEX and WORCESTER

From allies to Senate rivals

Eldridge facing GOP’s Thompson

By Calvin Hennick
Globe Correspondent / October 24, 2010

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Two years ago, Westborough Selectman George Thompson endorsed James Eldridge for the state Senate. Now, the men are running against each other for the seat.

Like many candidates running for office in the Nov. 2 election, both say jobs and the economy are top priorities. But they differ on major policy issues, including casinos and how to control health care costs. The most significant difference between the two, perhaps, involves the state’s sales and income taxes.

Both Thompson, running as a Republican for the state Senate’s Middlesex and Worcester District seat, and the Democratic incumbent from Acton have said they oppose Question 3, which would reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent. But Thompson favors lowering the sales tax to 5 percent, as well as bringing the state income tax down from 5.3 percent to 5 percent. Eldridge says both proposals to reduce the state’s revenues would be irresponsible.

Eldridge said the cuts would result in a billion-dollar shortfall in the state’s budget, and said Thompson hasn’t identified what programs he would cut to make up for it.

“I’m opposed to those tax cuts because it would have a negative impact on the communities I represent,’’ Eldridge said, predicting sharp reductions in local aid. But Thompson disputed the billion-dollar number, and said he supports a “responsible rollback’’ of taxes over two to four years.

“When he says a billion dollars, he’s assuming the rollback would occur immediately,’’ Thompson said. He said he supports large cuts in the state Probation Department, and hiring and salary freezes for state employees.

“These are tools that are used commonly in the private sector,’’ Thompson said. “I’m convinced there’s a lot of opportunity there.’’

Eldridge said he also supports cuts in the Probation Department, but that the state already has a freeze on hiring except for essential personnel, such as public safety workers.

“The items he listed nowhere near come to the billion dollars that would be lost from cutting sales and income taxes, and I don’t think that’s responsible,’’ Eldridge said.

Thompson said that low taxes are essential for a healthy economy. “What we’re presented with is a bad choice and a horrible choice,’’ he said. “The bad choice is we’re going to have to cut programs. The horrible choice is, if we raise taxes we risk retarding job growth.’’

Thompson also pointed toward his support of expanding legal gambling as a way to close a potential budget gap.

“Respectfully, it shows what little knowledge he has of state government and how things are paid for,’’ Eldridge said. “Even those who are for casinos have acknowledged that it would be two to four years before a casino could be built in Massachusetts.’’

The Middlesex and Worcester District covers Acton, Ayer, Boxborough, Harvard, Hudson, Littleton, Marlborough, Maynard, Shirley, Southborough, Stow, and Westborough, as well as one precinct in Northborough and three precincts in Sudbury.

Both men have supporters in the area. “Jamie’s a hard-working guy,’’ Donald Landers, a Marlborough city councilor and fellow Democrat, said of the incumbent. “He’s a hands-on guy. He follows through.’’

State Representative George Peterson Jr. said Thompson, a fellow Republican, would foster a business-friendly environment on Beacon Hill. “I know he believes in what we need to do in this state to move the economy forward,’’ Peterson said.

Thompson has called himself a ticket-splitting Republican, and said he endorsed his rival in 2008 in anticipation that Eldridge would be part of a good “bipartisan team’’ with the other members of Westborough’s State House delegation.

“He’s disappointed me,’’ Thompson said. “I guess what surprised me was the intensity of his commitment to progressive politics.’’

Eldridge defended his tenure. “My priorities have been the priorities of the district,’’ he said.

Thompson acknowledged he’s an underdog in the race, and not just because he’s running against a Democratic incumbent. While Eldridge says he has raised more than $100,000 this year, Thompson says his campaign chest is approaching $4,000. Campaign finance forms filed with the state showed Eldridge raising nearly $83,000 by Aug. 27, while Thompson had raised nothing in the same period.

In addition, Eldridge’s supporters have knocked on roughly 9,000 doors across the district, while Thompson says he has knocked on 400 or 500. Eldridge has endorsements from 66 area municipal officials, while Thompson says he has not sought endorsements.

“Respectfully, I do not think he’s run a serious campaign,’’ Eldridge said.

Thompson said he has campaigned by attending events and didn’t accept any donations over the summer because he didn’t want to commit too much time to campaigning before his children started school in the fall.

“I recognize I’m an underdog, but I think I’m frankly performing a public service just by giving people a choice,’’ Thompson said.

With incumbents from both major parties facing tough reelection fights around the country, and with many projecting a good year for Republicans, Eldridge said incumbency has a “mixed value’’ this year. “I’m very proud of the constituent services I provide,’’ he said. “But certainly, I recognize that voters are anxious because of the economy.’’

“To the extent my campaign has a chance to succeed, that chance is this year as opposed to any other year, because of the mood of the electorate,’’ Thompson said. “I think people are angry at Beacon Hill because of the increases in spending.’’

Globe correspondent Calvin Hennick can be reached at calvinhennick@yahoo.com.

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