Capuano Aligns His Record With Kennedy's For Senate Race

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The line-up of candidates for the state’s empty U.S. Senate seat is growing, and six-term Somerville Congressman Michael Capuano is now in the race to fill it.

The vacancy opened up Aug. 25 with the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who served nearly five decades. Capuano is banking on his close alignment with Kennedy, and he touts a nearly identical voting record. Critics say Capuano acts like the “heir apparent.”

On Thursday, Boston Celtics co-owner and venture capitalist Stephen Pagliuca joined the Democratic race along with state Attorney General Martha Coakley. Capuano formally announces his bid Friday.

We spoke with Capuano on Friday morning about why he’s running and why he thinks he can win the rapid-fire campaign.

Bob Oakes: Tell us why you want to be the U.S. senator, Congressman.

Rep. Michael Capuano: Quite simply, I'd like to have a position that allows me to carry on, No. 1, the work that I've been doing in Congress on a philosophical basis. And No. 2, I think it's critically important for Massachusetts to have somebody who shares both the philosophy and the ability to get things done in Washington that Ted Kennedy showed us during his lifetime.

You're aligning yourself pretty closely with Ted Kennedy in these early moments of the campaign, saying you're the only candidate who "stood with Ted Kennedy in opposition to the Iraq war," and who "mirrors his progressive record." You believe you can fight liberal causes, particularly on health care, with the same passion, dedication and influence that Kennedy had?

Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., on Sept. 2. (Mary Schwalm/AP, File)
Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., on Sept. 2. (Mary Schwalm/AP, File)

Well, the same passion and dedication, yes. The influence takes a long time to build up, and I don't pretend that I'll be able to step into his shoes directly. However, you have to start some place, and I don't think there's anyone who's in a better position to do it with a proven record that's philosophically in line with what Sen. Kennedy stood for and has a record of accomplishment. I would never suggest that my record matches the senator or probably ever could.

I've heard some Democrats complain that trying to paint yourself as very closely aligned with Sen. Kennedy and the heir apparent — that's their interpretation of your television ad campaign — is a little presumptuous.

Well, if they want to walk away form Ted Kennedy's philosophy and Ted Kennedy's legacy, they're entitled to do so. I, on the other hand, had the pleasure of working with him for 11 years. We shared a philosophy. Our voting records are very public, and there's very few things we disagreed on — I can't think of anything — very few things.

Facts are facts. I am proud to claim the fact that we stand on the same philosophical ground, and I am proud to be able to share some of the legacy he has. Again, I do not pretend that anyone could replace Ted Kennedy. I certainly cannot.

I do, however, think it's very clear by the record, by proven votes and work that we've done on Capitol Hill, that we do share philosophy and we've both had a pretty successful record. His, by far, outshines mine. Nonetheless, I think I've done OK over the 11 years that I've been there.

What's the most significant accomplishment that you've had on Capitol Hill in those 11 years, in your view?

The most measurable one was the change in the ethics laws. I'm proud that I was both the author and the sponsor of that particular proposal, that the common cause itself called a tremendous improvement, one of the most important of our generation.

There are many other things. I'm very proud of the money we were able to bring back for improvements in our highways and bridges. We had a record amount of money brought back that has never been matched by this commonwealth. And that's just two off the top of my head.

A new poll by Suffolk University and Channel 7 News shows that 53 percent of those surveyed viewed Attorney General Martha Coakley — Democrat, one of the candidates who will be running against you — favorably, compared to 16 percent who view you favorably. What's your strategy for turning that around?

Well, I think you're looking at the wrong number. The number you should be looking at is who knows me, and who knows the attorney general. Most everybody knows the attorney general. Rightfully so, she holds state-wide office. Very few people know me. My job is to introduce myself to the voters of Massachusetts, and I'm confident that once that happens, all of the other numbers will change.

I've been the underdog in every race I've ever run. It's a role that I understand. It's reality. At the same time, on a regular basis, pundits have always said, 'Oh, he can never do it, he's just a regular guy from Somerville, there's no way someone like him can win whatever race it might be.' We've been able to prove them wrong in the past, and I have absolute confidence it will happen again.

You have, as I understand, about $1 million in your federal campaign account, ahead of Attorney General Coakley, who declared her candidacy without having a federal account.

But Stephen Pagliuca, who jumped into the race Thursday — successful Boston businessman, Boston Celtics co-owner — is estimated to be worth more than $400 million. It's thought he's going to pump a lot of his own personal dough into this campaign. How are you going to compete with that?

I have no intention of competing with that. I can't and it won't happen. And, by the way, the attorney general and everybody else in this race will have sufficient funds to run a viable campaign. There's no question about that. However, I also believe that the voters of Massachusetts cannot be bought, No 1.

And No. 2, I just cannot believe that the voters of Massachusetts will replace Sen. Kennedy with a man who supported (Kennedy's) last opponent running for the Senate, Mitt Romney, and supported George Bush with a fair amount of money in donations.

Mr. Pagliuca, you're welcome to do that, but I just don't believe that the voters in the Democratic primary of Massachusetts will replace Ted Kennedy with someone who supported George Bush so openly.

After six terms in Congress, you have some influence on Capitol Hill right now on the House side. Are you worried that you could be frustrated in the Senate as the junior senator from Massachusetts?

I am not worried about that. I am certain that whoever becomes the junior senator from Massachusetts will suffer a small degree of frustration. But that is a fact of life in Washington, and it's just something you have to get over. I did the same thing when I became a member of the House, but I also know how to get around that. That lasts a short period of time. At the same time, if you put your head down and get to work, you can change that very quickly.

Congressman, thanks a lot for speaking with us.

Thanks, Bob, nice speaking to you.

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This program aired on September 18, 2009.


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