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The race to succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy now includes another official candidate on the Democratic side. Boston Celtics co-owner and venture capitalist Stephen Pagliuca announced his campaign Thursday.
Pagliuca explained to WBUR why a political novice with ties to former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney stands a chance at winning as a Democrat.
Bob Oakes: To start off, why don't you tell us why you want to run for U.S. Senate.
Stephen Pagliuca: I want to run for U.S. Senate because we have the biggest economic crisis that we've had in the past 50 years, and I've spent 25 years really working in the economy, and I think I can bring new solutions to bringing jobs back to Massachusetts and the United States.
Tell us what you mean by that.
What I mean by that is that I think we've kind of lost our way. I think business, government and unions have to work together, and the common enemies to the global economy. We're being beaten by the global economy, and we've got to unite together to win.
You've been described as a surprise candidate, a businessman with no experience running for or serving in office. Respond to those who might say — and you're probably going to hear — that you're not ready for the job.
Well, I've been working in the community for my entire life. I've worked with the MSPCC, and I think that is public service. Part of America is we've always had people that can get things done. I don't know if it's virtue to be-- if you can only be in elected office if you've been there for 20 years. I think you need new ideas, I think you need to integrate the thinking about the economy and the business with the legislature.
I'm well aware of everything that's going on because it impacts all of our daily lives. So we're in constant communication with people in Washington. We understand the regulations, we understand what has to get done to make the economy get growing again.
You're coming in at an incredibly difficult time. You point out that the economy's in a very shaky state, we need jobs here in Massachusetts; I imagine that every state in the union is arguing that point as well. National health care debate underway on Capitol Hill ongoing as we speak.
This morning, a national and international issue in the news, President Obama scrapping Bush-era plans for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. Some on Capitol Hill are saying they'll fight that plan, arguing that it endangers national security. Explain your view on that. Do you share that concern?
I do share that concern. I'm sure the president is making that move in the context of our international and global relationships. The concern that I share is that if we put the missile systems up in Europe, we are going to incite bad relations with the rest of the other countries. So, I think that President Obama is doing the right thing and I'd follow his lead there.
It's Sen. John McCain who's most vocal of the president's move, saying it calls into question the U.S. commitment to securing NATO allies and might undermine American leadership in Eastern Europe. Do you agree with that?
I don't agree with that that. I think we're always been a great NATO supporter. We have defended Europe in the past-- my father fought in World War II-- but I think the real issue here is that this election is about the economy, and I want to go back to that. We've really got to get jobs going in this country, and we've got to get out of these foreign conflicts.
You're running for the Senate seat as a Democrat, but you've supported Republicans in the past — former president George W. Bush and former Gov. Mitt Romney, in Romney's 1994 campaign against Ted Kennedy. Are you a Democrat, or a Republican in Democratic clothing?
I'm a Democrat and I think people who meet me will realize I'm a Democrat. I have progressive Democratic values. I was the grandson of an Italian shoemaker who came from Italy and I understand the needs of working people. I worked with Ted Kennedy for health care, and when they get to meet me, they'll know that.
In the last hour of Morning Edition, one of your opponents, Massachusetts Congressman Michael Capuano, who gets into the Senate race officially Friday, said he had his doubts that voters will elect a person who supported a guy who ran against Ted Kennedy — we're talking about Mitt Romney there.
You're going to hear that again and again in this short campaign. Explain why you backed Mitt Romney back then against Ted Kennedy, and respond to Congressman Capuano.
Mitt Romney hired me, was a friend. I gave Mitt Romney some donations for his campaign because he was a friend, and friendship came first. I've always been a Democrat, and I've had different views than Mitt Romney. I'm not Mitt Romney, and I think people will realize that when they meet me out there.
Your personal fortune is estimated at more than $400 million, which means that if you wanted to you could probably easily outspend your opponents in a very short Senate race. How big or unfair an advantage is that, and how do you overcome the perception that's already out there in these early moments of the campaign that you might try to buy the Senate race?
I agree with Congressman Capuano on this: You can't buy the race. The people of Massachusetts are very smart, and when they see my positions on things and they see what I can do, I think they'll elect me. I don't think you can buy the race.
In a new poll by Suffolk University and Channel 7, more than 70 percent of those surveyed didn't recognize your name. You're already out with an ad campaign. How do you think you're going to overcome that?
Well, I think we have to just get out in the state. I'm going on a listening tour in the state, we're going to talk about the issues. We're going to get some ads out there to say what the issues are and say where I stand on them. I think the people of Massachusetts will welcome that, and I'm going to gain ground.
What's the most important thing you want to accomplish first on Capitol Hill as Massachusetts next U.S. senator?
I think the No. 1 priority is getting the health care legislation passed. There's 30 million people out there who don't have health care, that makes our system extremely high-cost because they get treated in emergency rooms, and I think that's a huge priority. I think the second priority is stabilizing the financial system and getting legislation through so we will not have a macroeconomic collapse like we had in the past years. And third, getting the economy back going again.
Stephen Pagliuca, thank you for speaking with Morning Edition and we'll be hearing a lot more from you and hope to speak to you again in the coming weeks.
Great, I look forward to getting out there and talking to the voters.
This program aired on September 18, 2009.
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