- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2009

BOSTON | Attorney General Martha Coakley may be the front-runner in the race to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat, but she is crafting a campaign largely free of the Kennedy mystique.

Although she shares Kennedy’s position on key issues and is appealing to the same liberal Democratic voters who returned him to office during his 47 years in the Senate, Mrs. Coakley is helping usher in a post-Kennedy Massachusetts - a state where politics have been inextricably linked to the family for generations.

Unlike her three Democratic rivals in the recent primary, Mrs. Coakley refrained from invoking Kennedy’s name or image in her television ads, instead focusing on her personal history, record as attorney general and legislative priorities.

Mrs. Coakley, 56, who faces a Republican and a Libertarian in a Jan. 19 special election, said playing down Kennedy’s persona during the campaign was a simple acknowledgment of the titanic role he played in the politics of Massachusetts and the nation.

“We just felt that no one could replace Sen. Kennedy, that he was such a larger-than-life character and so down-to-earth,” Mrs. Coakley said in an interview with Associated Press. “Someone was going to fill that seat, but it wasn’t going to be anybody even close to his legacy and his talent and his experience.”

Mrs. Coakley said she has acknowledging another fact - that Kennedy’s death necessarily opens “a new day” in Massachusetts’ politics.

“It was daunting and humbling to even be running for this seat, so I thought I can’t really pretend to be Sen. Kennedy,” she said. “I can certainly aspire to follow in his footsteps.”

Although she’s avoided using his image in ads, Mrs. Coakley has mentioned Kennedy at some public appearances. She referenced his battles against discrimination to frame her opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to married gay couples in Massachusetts.

But Mrs. Coakley’s efforts to avoid direct comparisons with Kennedy is also helping focus attention on her own story - one that includes breaking political gender barriers in a state that considers itself one of the most liberal.

Mrs. Coakley was the first woman elected to the state’s highest law enforcement office. If she succeeds Jan. 19, she’ll be the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts.

She was the first to declare her candidacy after his death and had quietly begun exploring a run well before he died, at the risk of alienating the Kennedy family. She also declared that she would run even if another member of the family, including former U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, opted into the race. He decided against running.

In the four-way Democratic primary, Mrs. Coakley garnered nearly half the vote.

Her Republican challenger, state Sen. Scott Brown, has described himself as the underdog in the race and said that although he differed with Kennedy on many issues, he also found areas of agreement, including Kennedy’s opposition to Cape Wind, a proposal to build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound. Mrs. Coakley supports the plan.

Mr. Brown, 50, is also critical, saying the Democratic Party has drifted too far left from the party of Kennedy’s brother, John F. Kennedy. “When I go around the state, people are saying, ‘You know what? This isn’t JFK’s party anymore,’ ” he said.

Joseph L. Kennedy, a 38-year-old Libertarian running as an independent, is no relation to the late senator.

Mrs. Coakley is convinced that he poses more of a problem for Mr. Brown and has insisted that he be included in debates. Mr. Brown initially pushed for one-on-one debates with Mrs. Coakley.

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