Lynch opts out of Senate contest

Surprise decision opens door for Capuano

Stephen F. Lynch did not get his usual labor support. Stephen F. Lynch did not get his usual labor support.
By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / September 16, 2009

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US Representative Stephen F. Lynch shook up the race for Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat yesterday with a surprise announcement that he will not run, removing another high-profile name from an abbreviated election notable more for who has opted out than who has jumped in.

Lynch’s abrupt decision, which comes after he failed to capture the labor support he was counting on, could give a significant boost to US Representative Michael Capuano, now the only member of Congress running in the first open US Senate seat in Massachusetts in a quarter-century.

“I’m definitely in,’’ Capuano, who is planning a formal announcement Friday, said in an interview.

Capuano then fired the first salvos of the race, calling rival Attorney General Martha Coakley the favorite but describing her political record as “a blank slate.’’

“There’s only a few things the attorney general has taken a position on until lately,’’ he said. “What’s she done about the Iraq war? What has she said about health care? I really couldn’t tell you. I wouldn’t mind if you were just a new candidate, but she’s been running for 4 1/2 years. It’s just a little too cautious to me.’’

He added, “I know where I am. I have a long voting record, and everybody who knows me knows where I stand. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who thinks I’m wishy-washy.’’

At a press conference to announce several union endorsements, Coakley said, “The fact that Congressman Capuano doesn’t know my position doesn’t mean these gentlemen don’t, and that’s what’s important to me.’’

She continued, “And I think the voters do know, and certainly will know, where I stand on many of those issues. Secondly, you know, there’s more to being a good legislator and being a good senator than signing a bill or voting on a bill. I have a record of problem-solving around issues that are important . . . to folks all across Massachusetts.’’

As Coakley and Capuano kicked off their rivalry for the Democratic primary scheduled Dec. 8, two nonpoliticians - Boston Celtics co-owner and private equity investor Stephen G. Pagliuca and City Year cofounder Alan Khazei - continued to plot potential runs for the Democratic nomination, too.

Political observers had expected Lynch to go after conservative, lunch-bucket Democrats. But it was the inability of the former ironworker to capture union support, which has long been his base and would have provided the network for him to launch a statewide campaign, that guided his decision not to get in the race.

About four hours after Lynch announced he wasn’t running, Coakley held a press conference at her campaign headquarters in Charlestown to stand with four union leaders and announce their endorsements.

“She came out early, she came out fast, and she came out strong,’’ said Sean M. O’Brien, president of Teamsters Local 25. “And she knows our issues.’’

Union officials said yesterday that they had been growing frustrated with Lynch for some time, but the fissure was widened by his lukewarm stance on President Obama’s health care plan. The 7,500-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103, which had stood with Lynch in all of his previous elections, decided to endorse Coakley instead.

“Martha Coakley is the person in this race who can continue the legacy of Ted Kennedy,’’ IBEW business manager Mike Monahan said in an interview.

Lynch’s stance on health care was one of the union’s reasons for not endorsing him, Monahan said.

“Ted Kennedy didn’t stick his finger in the air to see which way the wind was blowing,’’ he said. “Ted Kennedy doesn’t test the wind. He knows when something has to be done regardless of its popularity. Martha is that kind of person.’’

In a brief statement released yesterday afternoon, Lynch said that the “challenge of putting together the resources and organization necessary to wage a competitive statewide campaign in less than 90 days is insurmountable.’’

“After thorough consideration I have decided that I will not be a candidate for the special US Senate race to succeed Edward M. Kennedy,’’ Lynch said.

The South Boston Democrat originally had planned to announce he was running in a series of stops around the state today. He made his decision not to run on Monday night after thinking hard about what it would take to capture the seat, according to an adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“He realized the parts weren’t there to win,’’ the adviser said.

Khazei, who was already considering getting into the race, had his supporters pull papers for him yesterday morning and immediately begin collecting signatures across the street, on Boston Common.

“My wife, Vanessa, and I have been humbled by the outpouring of support we have received,’’ Khazei said in a statement.

The Globe reported yesterday that Pagliuca has assembled a team of policy specialists, media advisers, and political organizers and is close to making a decision on declaring his candidacy. That announcement could come within the next few days, according to advisers.

But Capuano, for one, was looking only at Coakley, saying Lynch’s decision makes it clear who the “true contenders’’ are.

“It will really be a two-person race,’’ he said. “There will be other candidates, and that’s fine but I don’t think the people of Massachusetts want to replace the most experienced, and most successful person in the Senate with someone who has no legislative experience at all.’’

Capuano had $1.2 million in his federal account as of June 30, the most recent filing report. Coakley begins with a significant disadvantage because cash raised for state campaigns cannot be used in a federal election.

Andrea Estes and Michael Rezendes of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at