Senate rivals play to strengths with supporters

Veterans, labor reaffirm choice

By Eric Moskowitz and Matt Viser
Globe Staff / December 18, 2009

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BEDFORD - Trying to build momentum before the holiday lull, the nominees for US Senate yesterday stood shoulder to shoulder with reliable constituencies, with Republican Scott Brown touting the endorsement of military veterans and Democrat Martha Coakley receiving the blessing of big labor.

Brown, appearing at an American Legion hall here, touted a “Veterans for Brown’’ coalition and used the event to blast Coakley on national security, namely her support for President Obama’s proposal to prosecute suspected terrorists in civilian courts.

“Our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop these terrorists, not lawyers to defend them. And I hope you all agree with me on that,’’ said Brown, a state senator from Wrentham, drawing applause and cries of “Here! Here!’’ from a phalanx of veterans with him on stage before a giant American flag. “Our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation and its citizens - they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in war time.’’

Coakley, the state attorney general, was nearby in Arlington receiving an endorsement from the state’s largest labor union. The Massachusetts AFL-CIO, which was neutral during the Democratic primary, voted unanimously yesterday to endorse her in the Jan. 19 election. The move was largely expected, though Brown was endorsed by the AFL-CIO in his reelection campaign for state Senate last year.

“All her public service has been about helping people, about standing up, about justice, about equity, about fairness, about the things that really matter,’’ Robert Haynes, the union president, said at the event, held at an Italian restaurant.

“God knows we need a healthy economy back,’’ Coakley said in a brief speech. “And I know that most importantly to everybody in this room today is that we turn this economy around and we get you back to work.’’

On that, the two candidates would, of course, agree. What divided them was national security, and the war in Afghanistan.

Coakley reiterated her opposition to Obama’s plan to add troops in Afghanistan, saying it “doesn’t seem to be realistic.’’

“I would prefer that the president focus on Pakistan, focus on where we know Al Qaeda is, and accomplish military goals in a time period that are going to be realistic,’’ she told reporters. “I do not remain convinced that sending more troops to Afghanistan is going to accomplish the mission that we need to there.’’

That stance puts her at opposition not only with Obama and Senator John F. Kerry, but Brown, who sought yesterday to highlight his own background in the National Guard and the support he enjoys from veterans.

“Radical Islamic terrorists are this century’s darkest nightmare,’’ he said. “We know they are making plans to attack again. And if we lose our resolve, or let our guard down, they will strike.’’

Brown, 50, is nearing 30 years of service in the Guard, where he is a lieutenant colonel and lawyer in the judge advocate general corps. He was introduced by Bob Fairbairn, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient active in a variety of veterans’ groups, and Thomas J. Hudner Jr., recipient of the Medal of Honor for a valiant rescue attempt in Korea.

“I think we could have no better candidate than Scott Brown for this very important position,’’ Hudner said.

Matt Viser can be reached at Eric Moskowitz can be reached at