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Brown presses Coakley for one-on-one debate

Independent will join rivals 3 more times

By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / December 24, 2009

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The major candidates running for the state’s first open Senate seat in 25 years sparred yesterday over the debate schedule for the remainder of the special election campaign, with Republican Scott P. Brown accusing Democratic rival Martha Coakley of trying to avoid joint appearances as Coakley announced that she had accepted three more invitations.

Coakley said she would meet Brown and their lesser-known opponent, independent Joseph L. Kennedy, in a radio debate Jan. 5, a televised debate Jan. 8 in Western Massachusetts, and a debate in Boston hosted by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute on Jan. 11. The last event is the only live, televised debate in the state’s major media market in which Coakley has agreed to participate.

Brown challenged Coakley to appear in two additional debates to be televised in the Boston market without Kennedy, saying voters deserve a chance to see the major-party nominees emphasize their differences in a direct setting. Coakley, he said, was trying to “hide in the bunker and accept periodic debates.’’

“I personally believe she’s afraid to show that her policies are so out of touch with the citizens of Massachusetts who are footing the bill for the out-of-control spending in Washington,’’ Brown, a state senator from Wrentham, told reporters at an afternoon news conference. “It’s black and white. People will know where I stand, and people will know where Martha stands, and it’s important for them to get that opportunity.’’

Coakley, the state’s attorney general, said through a spokesman that the candidates should not meet unless all are present, including Kennedy, a libertarian not related to the prominent political family. The three are vying to succeed the late Edward M. Kennedy in a special election to take place Jan. 19.

“There are three candidates on the ballot,’’ said Corey Welford, a spokesman for Coakley. “And we believe it’s important that voters have the opportunity to hear from all three candidates on their positions and their records.’’

The three have met twice: Monday, on WBZ radio, and Tuesday, at the studios of WBZ-TV. Tuesday’s debate was carried live on the station’s website but will not be shown on television until after Christmas: It will be broadcast on WBZ-TV Sunday at 8 a.m. and on TV38 Monday at 7 p.m.

Kennedy, an information technology executive from Dedham, aimed much of his fire in those debates at Brown, even though the two share a desire to cut taxes and spending. Kennedy explained that he did so because he thinks Brown overstates his reputation as a fiscal watchdog and has not done enough on Beacon Hill to cut taxes and reduce spending.

“If I’m taking votes away from somebody who’s not going to do it anyway, then I’m sticking to my beliefs,’’ he said after Tuesday’s debate.

Brown said he did not notice that he was in Kennedy’s crosshairs. At his press conference, he pitched himself as the fiscal conservative, using a prop to illustrate the distinctions he wants to draw with Coakley. On an oversized restaurant check, he tallied the cost to taxpayers of programs that she backs and he does not, including her support for health care legislation.

Brown said he wants to hold as many debates as Senator John F. Kerry and challenger William Weld staged in their 1996 Senate race, when they met nearly 10 times between April and October.

Coakley’s campaign said the five meetings in which she agreed to participate in the six weeks between the primary and the special election match the total number of debates from each of the last two Massachusetts gubernatorial races.

“We find it ironic that on a day that we just had two debates in two days, and now are scheduled to do three more debates in the general election, that Scott Brown is holding a press conference to complain somehow about the number of debates,’’ Welford said.

There are at least two potential one-on-one debates scheduled for January, though Coakley has yet to agree to either. One would be sponsored by WCVB-TV, and another by a consortium that includes the Globe.

The three confirmed debates are as follows: The debate on Jan. 5 will air on Boston-area radio station WTKK-FM; Springfield public television station WGBY will carry the Jan. 8 event; and a number of TV and radio stations across the state will carry the Jan. 11 debate, which will be held at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

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