Divergent strategies for Brown, Coakley

Senator takes aim; AG looks past him

By Matt Viser and Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / December 10, 2009

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HOLYOKE - From the opening moments yesterday of their special election battle for US Senate, the contrasts between Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley were clear.

Brown, a state senator from Wrentham, signaled he would go after the attorney general with everything he had. She indicated she would do all she could to ignore him.

He kicked off his six-week push with a press conference and then immediately traveled to a Holyoke factory and Soldiers’ Home to launch a “Jobs are Job One’’ tour.

Coakley, after a press event with her vanquished primary rivals, retired to her campaign headquarters in Charlestown, seeing no need to hit the trail on her first day as the Democratic nominee.

Brown made much of signing a pledge not to raise taxes. Coakley, in a reflection of their divergent political views, laughed it off as a gimmick.

“There’s a clear contrast,’’ Brown told reporters at his Needham headquarters. “If [voters are] happy and everything’s going well for them, send Martha down there. But if they want somebody who’s going to be an independent voter and thinker and look out for their interests, then they should send me.’’

He sought to paint Coakley as a Democratic automaton, saying she would be “almost robotic in the way that she’ll be in lockstep with [Senate majority leader] Harry Reid and the special interests and the president.’’

Democrats, though, seemed unworried that they would lose a seat they have held since 1953.

“There is no way in hell we’re going to elect a Republican to Ted Kennedy’s seat,’’ US Representative Michael E. Capuano, Coakley’s chief primary rival, said at the unity event in the Kennedy Room of the Omni Parker House. “Period.’’

Coakley - who wore a red, white, and blue donkey pendant - delivered a 10-minute stump speech in which she reiterated her positions on many of the issues she highlighted during the primary campaign, including her support for universal health care coverage.

In her remarks, Coakley never uttered Brown’s name. Speaking to reporters afterward, she sidestepped chances to detail her differences with him. “I’m going run my campaign based upon what I’m doing,’’ she said. “That’s really a question for Scott.’’

Brown sought to draw several distinctions between himself and Coakley, saying she supports policies that will make it hard for Massachusetts taxpayers and businesses to recover from the recession. He cited the attorney general’s support for a national health insurance overhaul and the federal stimulus package and her opposition to renewing President Bush’s tax cuts, which are set to expire.

He also signed a pledge from the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform that he would not raise taxes and challenged Coakley to do the same.

“Very simply, I will not raise taxes on the American people,’’ Brown said. “We are in the second year of a recession that is pushing many Massachusetts families and businesses to the brink. More taxes will make it harder for them to get through this economic downturn.’’

Asked about the pledge, Coakley said, “I’m just not going to respond to that.’’

One other major difference between the candidates is over the troop build up in Afghanistan. Brown supports President Obama’s plan to deploy 30,000 additional troops, while Coakley opposes it.

Health care legislation being debated in Washington also promises to loom large in the race. Brown opposes the creation of a government-run health insurance option as part of a an overhaul. Yesterday morning, Coakley said she supports the plan outlined this week by Reid, even though it does not include the kind of robust public option she and other Democrats have said they want.

“Even if we can only get incremental progress in this bill, it’s important to take these steps,’’ Coakley said. “But it means the battle for health care will continue, and I will continue to be an advocate for a strong public option.’’

After his morning press conference, Brown spent some time in his Needham headquarters, making calls to a list of independent and Republican voters. He then drove himself to campaign far beyond his suburban Senate district, making a pair of stops in Holyoke before returning for a fund-raiser in Westfield.

In Holyoke, Brown toured Universal Plastics, which designs and produces a wide range of components and finished products for other companies and manufacturers. He was also scheduled to tour the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. The trip out west underscored a key task: introducing himself to voters beyond his district.

In an interview, Brown said he has better name recognition around the state than Coakley’s three Democratic opponents enjoyed when that primary race began in September.

He said he has traveled extensively in Massachusetts to address business groups, local Rotary and Lions clubs, and Republican organizations, particularly when Mitt Romney was governor.

Several media outlets, meanwhile, began planning for debates. WCVB has invited the candidates to a 10 a.m. debate on Jan. 10 that would be simulcast locally on WCVB and nationally on CNN. It would be moderated by WCVB anchor Ed Harding and CNN’s John King.

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate has also invited the candidates to debate on Jan. 11. The debate would be moderated by former presidential adviser David Gergen. Brown has confirmed both of those debates, but Coakley has not.

“We know we’ll be debating,’’ Coakley said. “We look forward to debates with him.’’

Brown conceded yesterday that Coakley would probably have a financial advantage in the race. Eric Fehrnstrom, a top Brown adviser, said that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has not ruled out financial assistance but that at this point the Brown campaign is not counting on it.

“There’s no upside for us to publicly disclose strategic decisions to our opponents, so we don’t comment on whether we’ll spend money in a race,’’ said Colin Reed, a spokesman for the committee.

A third contender, Joseph L. Kennedy, an independent from Dedham who is not related to the famed political family, also filed sufficient signatures to qualify for the Jan. 19 ballot.

The Democratic rally yesterday morning was a festive affair, with House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo joking about Senate President Therese Murray’s dancing the night before. “I think she’s ready for “Dancing with the Stars,’’ he said.

Coakley readily dispensed hugs, sometimes stopping people before they were finished with their remarks.

“I knew Senator Kennedy; I loved Senator Kennedy,’’ said Governor Deval Patrick. “I never got these many hugs from Senator Kennedy.’’

“You’re just a class act, you really are,’’ said City Year cofounder Alan Khazei, one of Coakley’s primary challengers.

“I like her on every level,’’ Capuano said.

Primary rival Stephen G. Pagliuca added, “To beat three Italians is a major, major feat. Just one would be a challenge but three?’’

Brian Mooney of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Viser can be reached at; Moskowitz at