NEW BEDFORD, Mass., Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Charlie Baker's opponents are hammering the Massachusetts Republican over his inability to produce the subject of an emotional story he told at Tuesday night's gubernatorial debate.
At a campaign event Friday, Democratic nominee for governor Martha Coakley demanded Baker come clean.
"Charlie has some questions to answer about it," she said. "It's a little puzzling, and frankly, a little disappointing because he captured all this detail and seem to live in that moment of emotion, but now we're learning that maybe it was [several stories put together]."
The Republican candidate's story of a New Bedford fisherman who convinced his sons to turn down football scholarships to stay in the family business -- and Baker's tears in telling it -- was the Tuesday debate's unquestionable highlight, with some predicting it might be enough to sway undecided voters to his side in the tight race.
The debate moderator had asked about the last time he had cried.
"So I got asked the other day -- and I may not make it through this story -- I got asked the other day to tell some interesting stories about people I had met over the course of the campaign," he said, launching to the story of a fisherman "a big, huge man, completely soaked in sweat and salt water" who cried when Baker asked him about his business.
"I gave him a hug, he was a big huge guy," he said. "It was like hugging a mountain. And he shook for a while and we started talking about the business and the industry and the federal government.
Baker went on:
"And then he said, 'See those two kids up there?' And he pointed to these two boys on the boat. 'Those are my sons.' And he said, um, 'They were both spectacular football players at New Bedford High School who were given college scholarships to go play football.'
'I told them no. I said you're going to be fishermen. I was a fisherman. My brothers were fishermen. My father was a fisherman. You're going to be fishermen. And I ruined their lives.'"
But by Wednesday, his story was under fire. Baker first admitted the incident took place in 2009, when he was running against to unseat Gov. Deval Patrick.
"Every time I tell it, it's like it happened five minutes ago, as far as I'm concerned," he told reporters Wednesday.
A slightly stale tale would not have been much of a problem, until he then admitted he could not identify who the fisherman was -- Baker said he did not know his name -- and neither the Boston Globe nor the New Bedford Standard-Times could locate him.
The Globe spoke to Verna Kendall of the Massachusetts Fisherman's Partnership, who came up empty when trying to decipher the identity of Baker's fisherman. Nor was New Bedford football coach Mark DeBrito able to identify the man's sons.
Neither was Jim Kendall, president of New Bedford Seafood Consulting, or Richie Canastra of Whaling City Seafood Display Auction, both contacted by the Standard-Times.
On Thursday, Baker admitted to maybe "a detail or two I got wrong."
"But obviously the image and the message from him has stayed with me for a very long time," he said.
"Charlie had a conversation with a family fisherman in New Bedford," said campaign manager Jim Conroy. "It is certainly possible that this person did not live in New Bedford, and Charlie was mistaken about that five years ago."
Baker has a slight edge in polls heading into the final weekend of the campaign, leading between 1 and 9 points in most polls released in the past week.
The Cook Political Report rates the race as a toss-up.