- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 12, 2010

BOSTON | Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown faced each other Monday in the final, feisty debate of the brief campaign for the late Edward Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat.

Mrs. Coakley tried to portray Mr. Brown as a social conservative beholden to what she called the failed policies of former President George W. Bush while Mr. Brown tried to cast Mrs. Coakley as naive on foreign policy and someone who’d give terrorism suspects the chance to “lawyer up” before being interrogated.

“To think that we would give people who want to kill us constitutional rights and let them lawyer up … makes no sense to me,” Mr. Brown said during the debate, which was sponsored by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate. “I believe they should be interrogated.”

Mr. Brown, a three-term state senator, also said that he supports President Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and said the United States needs to be engaged militarily overseas to prevent al Qaeda from teaming up with the Taliban to seize nuclear weapons in Pakistan.

Mrs. Coakley, the state attorney general, said she disagreed with Mr. Obama’s decision and thinks there are better ways to fight terrorist organizations than sending troops into every country where they have a presence. She also said it’s time to bring home the troops still in Afghanistan.

“This is not about sending troops everywhere where we think al Qaeda is,” she said. “I think we have done what we can in Afghanistan.”

She also said that although she is personally opposed to the death penalty, it is up to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to decide what penalty to seek against terrorism suspects.

Mrs. Coakley zeroed in on Mr. Brown’s record in the state Legislature, pointing to an amendment he sponsored in 2005 that would have exempted doctors and nurses from a state law requiring they offer emergency contraception to rape victims if it violated a “sincerely held religious belief.”

Mr. Brown brushed off the criticism, calling it a “red herring.” He called the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion “the law of the land,” but he said he supported limitations, including a ban on late-term abortions.

Mr. Brown also noted his two daughters and called it “abhorrent” to suggest he would support denying them care if they were raped.

Mrs. Coakley tried to link Mr. Brown to Mr. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, saying Mr. Brown wants to return to the lax regulation that helped precipitate the country’s fiscal crisis.

Mr. Brown tried to distance himself from both men. “You can run against Bush/Cheney, but I’m Scott Brown. I live in Wrentham. I drive a truck,” he said.

The two also tussled on what has become a signature issue in the campaign — the fate of a national health care overhaul.

Mr. Brown vowed to be the 41st vote against the bill. He said that every state in the country has the option to follow the lead of Massachusetts, which approved its own sweeping health care overhaul in 2006.

Mrs. Coakley called herself a reliable vote in favor of health care although she said she’d vote against a final bill if it included a more restrictive anti-abortion amendment that was part of the House version.

Mrs. Coakley said she thought the final version would adopt the less restrictive Senate language “or some reasonable facsimile.”

The third candidate in the race, Joseph L. Kennedy, a Libertarian unrelated to the late senator, also said he opposed the bill. “The issue today is not who is going to vote down health care,” he said. “The question is who is going to repeal it once it passes.”

The special election is scheduled for Jan. 19.

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