Coakley balking at 1-on-1 debates

Rebuffs Brown over exclusion of 3d rival

By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / December 15, 2009

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The Republican nominee for US Senate, state Senator Scott P. Brown, escalated his challenge to Democrat Martha Coakley yesterday by accepting invitations to seven debates during the final four weeks of the campaign.

But Coakley, the state’s attorney general, said she is reluctant to participate in any debates that do not include a little-known independent candidate, Joseph L. Kennedy. Most of the invitations Brown accepted are for debates that do not include Kennedy; six are scheduled during a nine-day period, and most are sponsored by media outlets.

“I think it’s going to be very hard for us to participate in a debate where he’s not included,’’ Coakley said yesterday in an interview at a Dorchester union hall after she was endorsed by several environmental groups.

“It shouldn’t be two people in some debates, three in other debates,’’ she added. “I think everybody should be included, and I think we’re going to hold pretty firm on that.’’

Brown’s campaign said it had no position on whether Kennedy should be included in the debates.

“Our position is that we’ll debate whoever is on the stage,’’ said Beth Lindstrom, Brown’s campaign manager. “Voters will learn there are clear differences between Scott Brown, who wants to lower taxes and control spending, and Martha Coakley, who wants to increase spending and raise taxes.’’

Kennedy, a 38-year-old from Dedham who is not a member of the Mas sachusetts Kennedy clan, submitted 10,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

His last name could pose a problem for Coakley, because some voters might confuse Joseph L. Kennedy with Joseph P. Kennedy II, a former US representative who considered but decided against jumping into the race to succeed his uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who died in August. But the independent candidacy also poses a challenge to Brown, because Joseph L. Kennedy is a libertarian who could compete with Brown for support from conservative voters.

Kennedy, a vice president of information technology at State Street Corp., said in a phone interview yesterday that he deserves a place at the debates.

“People who are voting need to hear what the candidates represent,’’ Kennedy said. “To not have anybody at a specific debate lessens that knowledge getting out to the population.’’

Coakley said she agreed.

“This is about a very important seat, and voters really should get a chance to see who’s on the ballot,’’ Coakley said. “As we stand today, we think if there are going to be debates, then the three candidates who voters are going to pick on should be in that debate.’’

Meanwhile, each of the candidates has started testing different campaign messages.

Coakley was endorsed yesterday by several environmental groups and sought to project herself as the greenest candidate in the field. She is planning to tour the Polartec headquarters in Lawrence today to discuss jobs creation with one of her Democratic primary rivals, Stephen G. Pagliuca, whose campaign focused on economic issues.

Brown released a proposal yesterday for controlling federal spending, saying there should be a temporary freeze on all nondefense discretionary spending.

Kennedy also wants to save costs, but with a different method: He has called on Brown and Coakley to forgo their taxpayer-funded salaries for the duration of the campaign.

“I think it is wrong to take the public’s money for a job you are not giving your best efforts towards, while essentially job hunting on the taxpayers of Massachusetts’ dime,’’ said Kennedy, who has taken an unpaid leave of absence from his job.

Matt Viser can be reached at