Massachusetts' top lawyer poised to replace Ted Kennedy

Martha Coakley won the Democratic primary Tuesday in the race to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. If she succeeds in the general election, she will be the first woman senator for Massachusetts.

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    Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (l.) spoke to supporters, with Sen. John Kerry at her side, in Boston on Wednesday after she won the Democratic primary election for a US Senate seat.
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Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) is poised to become the Bay State’s first woman senator.

Ms. Coakley won the Democratic primary in the race to fill the US Senate seat of the late Edward Kennedy. Her victory Tuesday was by a wide margin – 19 points over her closest competitor, Rep. Michael Capuano.

While the historic importance of her potential election to the Senate has not been lost on the media or with her supporters, it’s something Coakley has left largely unsaid on the campaign trail.

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In accepting the Democratic nomination for the seat Tuesday, she did acknowledge the importance of her accomplishment, though only briefly.

“They said women don’t have much luck in Massachusetts politics,” she said. “We believed that it was quite possible that that luck was about to change.”

Coakley’s hesitation to discuss gender was probably an intentional campaign decision.

“She and her people recognize that when you say the first woman, you inject an abstraction into the argument,” says Dan Payne, a Massachusetts-based Democratic media consultant. “That’s something women’s groups say and do, but most female politicians don’t do that because they don’t want voters to feel they’re different.”

Many voters didn’t need Coakley to discuss her gender for it to matter to them.

“I’m thrilled that we’re going to have a competent female senator from Massachusetts,” said Molly Parr, who was in the audience at Coakley’s victory celebration Tuesday night.

Ms. Parr was motivated to volunteer for Coakley’s campaign after the would-be senator spoke out against the Stupak amendment, a provision in the House version of the healthcare reform bill specifying that federal funding cannot be used for abortion services.

“She played right to me with that,” Parr said. “I know my health is safe with her.”

But Coakley and other supporters at the celebration also stressed that her experience as the state’s attorney general and as a former district attorney was a factor in her success. In her victory speech, she cited job creation, healthcare reform, the environment, community safety, and civil liberties – common themes in her campaign rhetoric – as issues she would address in Washington.

Coakley enjoyed early support and fundraising from EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women in favor of abortion rights. Union groups also lent significant support. And she got a late boost from former President Clinton, who told voters they could trust Coakley “to get results” in prerecorded robocalls Monday.

While Coakley was favored during the three-month lead-up to the primary, her margin of victory was wider than previously estimated.

Unofficial results indicate that Coakley earned 47 percent of the vote, with Representative Capuano at 28 percent. Alan Khazei, co-founder of the service organization City Year, and Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics, received 13 and 12 percent of the vote, respectively.

All three of Coakley’s competitors pledged to support her in the general election and praised her campaign.

But her new rival, state Sen. Scott Brown – who beat businessman Jack E. Robinson by 78 percentage points to win the Republican nomination – wasted no time in criticizing Coakley, saying she would be a “partisan placeholder.”

He acknowledged that he’s an underdog in the Jan. 19 general election, but he tried Tuesday to appeal to independent voters, telling supporters, “never underestimate the power of the independent.”

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See also:

Candidates for Kennedy’s Senate seat try to carry his mantle

Far-left Democrats rule race for Kennedy’s Senate seat

Massachusetts’ would-be senators roil healthcare abortion debate
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