Mass. AG Coakley Skips U.S. Senate Candidate Forum

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Two Republicans and three Democrats vying to replace Sen. Edward M. Kennedy exchanged barbs over the federal stimulus, Afghanistan, and universal health care at a candidate forum Sunday night.

Another candidate, Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley, did not attend, telling organizers that she had a long-standing prior commitment. Coakley's absence did not go unnoticed, or unremarked upon, by her opponents.

The other three Democrats in the race are U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, Alan Khazei, co-founder of City Year, and Stephen Pagliuca, a venture capitalist and Boston Celtics part owner. On the Republican side, state Sen. Scott Brown and businessman Jack E. Robinson are running.

With the Dec. 8 primary nearing, the Democrats in particular sought to weaken Coakley's perceived standing as the front-runner during Sunday's debate, which was organized by the League of Women Voters.

Khazei said the Senate race was too serious not to have all the candidates on board, joking that he would have liked to have watched the finale of the television series "Mad Men," too.

"Couldn't she just have Tivo'd it and joined us here?" he said, to laughter from the crowd at the University of Massachusetts.

Capuano, back in the state after a late vote on federal health care reform legislation Saturday night, left the stage suddenly with 45 minutes to go in the two-hour debate. Organizers weren't sure why he left, but said fatigue may have played a role.

But Capuano figured in pointed commentary over the merits of the federal stimulus, saying the unemployment rate would have been much higher, especially among public employees.

"I personally believe the stimulus wasn't big enough," he said.

That provided an opening for Brown, who said cutting taxes would have been more effective in helping the country recover from the recession. "The stimulus hasn't created any jobs," he said.

Pagliuca said the country's troubles were caused by federal regulators, as did Robinson. Robinson said he would audit the Federal Reserve, where he said responsibility lies for lending money unsoundly.

On Afghanistan, Capuano and Khazei each said they opposed sending more troops to Afghanistan, and Capuano said it was time to withdraw. Pagliuca praised the president for deliberating about a surge and said the U.S. policy goal should be counterterrorism.

For the Republicans, Robinson said the mission is not clearly defined, and suggested the job was done, as Al Queda was not in Afghanistan. But Brown, a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, excoriated his opponents, and President Obama, saying a new surge in Afghanistan "would finish the job. I feel that his indecision is hurting morale."

On health care, the Democrats all said they support a public health insurance option, while both Republicans said they do not. Brown suggested that Massachusetts, which has its own health plan, would be hurt.

The League has planned a second forum in January, before the Jan. 19 special election and after the field is narrowed through the Dec. 8 party primaries.

This program aired on November 9, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.



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