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Coakley Walks Fine Gender Line In Senate Race05:08
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Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Martha Coakley spoke to WBUR's Bob Oakes in Studio 2. (Andrew Phelps/WBUR)
Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Martha Coakley spoke to WBUR's Bob Oakes in Studio 2. (Andrew Phelps/WBUR)

As the only major female candidate running for Massachusetts' U.S. Senate seat, state Attorney General Martha Coakley has received backing from several prominent Democratic women.

The Washington-based political group Emily's List, which works to support female, pro-choice candidates, has endorsed Coakley's bid. At a fundraiser luncheon at the Fairmont Copley Plaza on Wednesday, state Senate President Therese Murray and more than two dozen other state lawmakers are planning to formally endorse Coakley — who, if she won, would become the first female U.S. senator to represent the Bay State.

But Coakley insists it's her record, not her gender, that earned their support.

"I want to make it clear. I've never run for office and I'm not running for this or asking people to vote for me because of my gender," Coakley told WBUR's Bob Oakes in a Studio 2 interview.

While female voters understand Massachusetts should have more women in elected offices, she said, they support her because she would bring "a broad spectrum of interests and talents" to Washington.

WBUR Topics: Sprint To The Senate
WBUR Topics: Sprint To The Senate

Coakley graduated from Williams College in 1975 as a member of the first class at the previously single-sex college to include females. When she graduated from Boston University School of Law in 1979, Coakley's father gave her a plaque with the inscription: "Sometimes the best man for a job is a woman."

As one of five children, "we grew up, I think, in an atmosphere where we expected that we would have jobs, careers," Coakley said.

The Influence Of 'Perry Mason'

In high school, Coakley said she joined the debate team and admitted to watching a lot of "Perry Mason," the longest running lawyer show in the United States, with 245 episodes spanning from 1957 to 1974, according to The Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Even though the main prosecutor who went up against the title character — played by Raymond Burr — almost always lost, Coakley said she still wanted to go to law school.

"The short answer is I thought we needed better prosecutors and more of them," Coakley said. She said she wanted to make a difference and thought law school would give her the necessary tools.

Coakley worked several years in the Middlesex District Attorney's office and was elected Middlesex District Attorney in 1998.

"I was probably one of the DAs that put a greater focus in some respects on child abuse prevention and domestic violence, where women and kids were more victimized," Coakley said. She added that as the state's attorney general, she focused on several issues including health care and child care that "are not only women's issues but everybody's issues."

Following In Kennedy's Footsteps

Coakley was the first Democrat to formally enter the race for the Senate. Her Democratic contenders are Rep. Michael Capuano, Democrat of Somerville; Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca; and City Year co-founder Alan Khazei. State Sen. Scott Brown, of Wrentham, is among her Republican challengers.

In announcing her bid, Coakley said she would strive to follow in the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's footsteps.

"Sen. Kennedy was an incredible representative for Massachusetts," Coakley said. "Whether it was an individual constituent who had a problem or a business that was looking for a break, he understood Massachusetts and was able to stay in contact with everybody here."

Still, she went on to say, "I'm running my own race. I'm not running against Sen. Kennedy, certainly. I know we're trying to follow in his footsteps. I believe that I'm asking voters to look at my record."

One of the major issues Kennedy advocated for was health care. During Coakley's tenure as Attorney General, she has pursued health care insurers for predatory practices, and she said cracking down on such practices needs to be a part of health care reform.

"I appreciate that there's a huge consumer piece of health care here," Coakley said."Keep in mind the goal is to make sure that we have good and inexpensive competition so that people can get coverage."

On another contentious national issue, Coakley said she is not convinced that the U.S. needs to send more troops to Afghanistan because she feels the Obama administration needs to clearly define the mission there.

"If the goal is to get rid of the Taliban and frankly to get at al-Qaida and we've done that," Coakley said, "then the question has to be: What role do armed forces play now in Afghanistan and can they succeed in that mission?"


Click the "Listen Now" button at the top of the page to hear Bob Oakes' extended interview with Martha Coakley on Morning Edition, Sept. 29.


This program aired on September 30, 2009.

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