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Name Recognition And Dollars Will Play Big In Senate Race04:21

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Name recognition and funding will be key in the compressed campaigns to replace Edward M. Kennedy in the U.S. Senate.

Democratic political analyst Dan Payne said Attorney General Martha Coakley stands out in the crowded field of candidates.

Sprint To The Senate"This race looks like the white version of Gladys Knight and the Pips," Payne said. "She's the woman in front that you pay attention to and then there are three guys in the background who are — at this point anyway — pretty much similar but not standing out."

Candidates have until Oct. 20 to submit enough voter signatures to get on the ballot for the Dec. 8 primary. Then it's just three months until the Jan. 19, 2010, special election.

Payne joined Republican analyst Todd Domke and WBUR's Bob Oakes on Monday to size up the field and the short race ahead.

The field includes four Democrats: Coakley; Rep. Michael Capuano of Somerville; Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics; and Alan Khazei, co-founder of the service organization City Year. Among the Republican candidates are Sen. Scott Brown and Canton Selectman Robert Burr.

The only congressman in the race, Capuano, has been pushing to align his record with that of the late Kennedy. Both Payne and Domke said that effort is a stretch.

"He's stretching, but he's the only congressman in there, so he actually knows federal issues, and that's where he has Martha Coakley at a disadvantage," Domke said.

Payne said there is speculation that former Rep. Joseph Kennedy might endorse Capuano in order to help pave the way for one of his sons to run for Capuano's open congressional seat, if the representative were to win. The Kennedy family has not confirmed this.

As for Pagliuca, Payne and Domke agree that this multimillionaire — estimated to be worth $400 million — would be challenged by the fact that he is little known to voters, even though he could self-finance his entire campaign.

"He should cut out the middleman with all this TV advertising, send the checks, let's redistribute the wealth, and I think the voters would respond to that. I think they'd prefer attempted bribery to attempted brainwashing," Domke joked.

On a serious note, Payne added that millionaires running for election tend to need time to let voters get to know them, which will be difficult in this tight race. Khazei will face that same challenge, Payne said.

Domke said Brown would win the nomination for the Republican party.

While Domke said it was "unlikely" a Republican would be elected to fill Kennedy's former seat, he would be surprised if Burr would have enough signatures to make the primary ballot.

Domke said Brown's winning would have to be a fluke — "if the Democrats nominate one of the weakest candidates, if there's very low turnout and if the Democrat makes some mistake — says something scandalous like praising George Bush," he said.

But Payne said Brown might run a positive campaign and then go after another state office.

For the Democrats, the challenge will be to get a third of the vote in the primary. He said Coakley needs a stronger message and theme to motivate voters beyond simply voting for a female candidate.

"I don't think she needs to say 'Vote for me because I'm a woman'," Payne said. "I think there's a demand among female voters for a female candidate." But it has historically been difficult for attorneys general in Massachusetts to win an election to a higher office in the state.

Turnout is expected to be low, another challenge for the candidates. Domke estimated it would be lower than 20 percent.

WBUR's Kathleen McNerney compiled this report. Click "Listen Now" to hear the conversation with WBUR's Bob Oakes.

This program aired on September 28, 2009.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.


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