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Health Care, Afghanistan Top First Senate Debate

Republican Scott Brown, Democrat Martha Coakley and Independent candidate Joseph Kennedy take questions during a live radio talk show on WBZ-AM on Monday. (Steven Senne/AP)

Republican Scott Brown, Democrat Martha Coakley and Independent candidate Joseph Kennedy take questions during a live radio talk show on WBZ-AM on Monday. (Steven Senne/AP)

BOSTON — The three candidates running to fill the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat sparred on everything from Afghanistan to health care during their first debate Monday night on WBZ Radio.

The pending health care legislation produced some of the biggest differences between the candidates. Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley defended her decision to support the Senate’s reform bill despite restrictions it places on funding for abortion procedures.

During the primary race, she vowed to oppose a House version that restricted insurers from covering abortions.

“Let’s keep in mind what the goals are: coverage and keeping costs down,” Coakley said. “If that’s the case, then I would support this bill because I think it brings us closer to that without the restrictions that were in the bill in Congress.”

Republican state Sen. Scott Brown said the bill was too expensive, and he would oppose it. “When I go down there the first thing I’m going to look at is: Is this bill good for Massachusetts?” Brown said. “And this one absolutely is not.”

Independent candidate and libertarian Joseph Kennedy was steadfastly opposed to the measure. “If it were to pass, my goal would be to go to Washington and spend my time repealing every line of that bill,” he said.

On Afghanistan, only Scott Brown, an Army National Guardsman, supported President Obama’s troop surge. “My biggest fear is that we’re going to have the Taliban and al-Qaeda once again re-establish bases in that region, move on (to) Pakistan and get nuclear weapons and then use them,” he said.

Coakley said she did not believe the plan would help troops accomplish their mission in Afghanistan. “I just don’t believe at this stage that 30,000 troops in this period of time can accomplish a mission that is directed to keeping us safe,” Coakley said.

Kennedy said he did not support the war. “We need to put a thoughtful plan in place and bring troops home,” he said. “It’s a war that we can’t afford. It’s a war that we shouldn’t be in. And it’s a war that we can’t win.”

The three candidates debate again Tuesday night at 7 p.m. on WBZ-TV. It will stream live on WBZ’s Web site and then be broadcast on Sunday at 8 a.m. on WBZ-TV and on Channel 38 on Monday night at 7 p.m.

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