Capuano: Only Candidate To Combine Philosophy, Experience

Download Audio

As the race for Massachusetts' open U.S. Senate seat moves into its final week, U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano predicts no significant changes in the approach to his campaign.

In an interview with WBUR, Capuano expressed optimism, despite polls that show him trailing Attorney General Martha Coakley, and indicated his campaign would continue to look for support from undecided voters.

We spoke to Capuano this week as part of a final series of conversations with the primary candidates.

Bob Oakes: There's a little more than a week left to go in the campaign. What do you think that you need to do in the final week to pull ahead?

Michael Capuano: Exactly what we've been doing, which is to reach out to as many voters as we can and introduce ourselves to them.

What's your take on why Martha Coakley, the attorney general, one of your opponents, has maintained a lead and, in some polls, a fairly substantial lead?

That's easy, I mean, name recognition and the fact that most people haven't paid attention. The most telling thing of one of the most recent polls was that 75 percent of the people still had not made up their mind.

Do you think that voters understand at this moment why you want this job?

Yes, I do. I think the average voter wants somebody who has the right philosophy and can combine that with the ability to get something done in Washington. Having the right philosophy is all well and good, but that probably puts two or three of these candidates in that ball park.

But without being able to get anything done in Washington and without having a track record — a proven track record — to be able to accomplish something in Washington, you've only got half of Ted Kennedy.

Ted Kennedy was the greatest senator because he was able to combine both the philosophy and the abilities, and I don’t think there's any question that there's nobody else on this field that has that combination better than I do.

Any regrets at how you've handled that aspect of this race — talking about why you want to replace Ted Kennedy and why you think you're the best person to do that?

No. Not at all. All I've ever done in any campaign I've ever been in is just put myself out there and let people be the judge. I don’t try to be something I'm not, I don’t try to pretend that I'm something I'm not, I don’t try to present myself as something I'm not.

I am an elected official, a politician who has been very successful in Washington, in city halls and state houses for my entire career. If somebody wants somebody who needs on-the-job training, then they will not be able to vote for me.

In relation to voters' perception of you and the way you describe yourself, you have described yourself as a working-class candidate — the working-class candidate. The last time we spoke, you defended accepting campaign contributions from PACs, political action committees, this way:

I live in a two-family house in Somerville, Bob, I don’t know where you live. Most of my friends are not multi-millionaires. If I don’t do this, then no working-class person can ever run for office. And if that’s the goal that you want, or anybody else wants, they need to say it: Working class people need not apply, we only want multi-millionaires in the Senate.

Yet two weeks ago you disclosed that you have assets between $1.4 and $3.1 million.

No, that's not accurate, Bob. First of all, it's not two weeks ago, I've disclosed that every year since I've been in Congress. Second of all, that includes the value of my home.

Nobody else — by the rules of the House, you do not have to disclose the value of your primary residence — I'm one of the few people that does. My primary residence in Somerville, I bought it in 1980, I haven't moved, I haven't enhanced the house in a serious way, the value of the property has gone up like it has all across Greater Boston and I could not afford to buy that home today if I had not bought it in 1980.

So you would describe yourself then as working class and not one of those multi-millionaires you were talking about a minute ago.

If that’s the case, everybody in Somerville or Medford or any place where the real estate has gone up since 1980 would no longer be considered working class.

How much money do you have in your pocket right now?

Probably about 40 bucks. You want it?

(Laughs) No thank you, but thank you. Let's talk about a couple of issues that are on the plate this week. If the president proposes, as expected, the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, will you stand on the floor of the House to oppose that move?

Yes, I will. I've said repeatedly that I sent troops to Afghanistan because al-Qaida was there, and our mission was clear and unequivocal. Our mission was to deny al-Qaida a safe haven from which to operate so they could attack us again.

We have accomplished that in Afghanistan. If we have changed our mission, then I would probably have not voted for Afghanistan if it was a different mission.

Yet the president is sure to say, as part of his address to the nation, that continuing the mission in Afghanistan is vital to the security of this nation.

As I just said, that’s a new mission. And I want to be very clear: I have gotten a fair amount of political grief for my early support of President Obama. I am still a strong supporter of the president, I want him to be successful and I agree with him on 90 percent of his policies. If he makes this a new policy, I will respectfully disagree.

The White House is expected to hold a jobs summit this week. Has this president failed to produce the jobs that he should have created in his time in office?

Well, I think that the president and Congress both failed to do the full extent of job creation that we should have done during the stimulus. We failed because there were too many people that were requiring things that they wanted in order to get to 218 votes in the House and 60 votes in the Senate, they had to give them what they wanted.

And I think that it's about time that the rest of the country has gotten around to the knowledge that job creation is a critical aspect of the economic recovery and I can't wait to vote for a bill that is really, truly focused on that.

Some people, including some Democrats, are suggesting that tax credits be used to encourage businesses to create new jobs right now.

If the tax credits are specifically targeted to job creation and can be measured that way, I'd be in favor of it. And if they're not targeted, I won't vote for them. But, again, let's be serious, this bill is probably going to be a conglomeration of different issues and, like anything else, there'll be some things in this bill I like, some things in the bill I don't.

And if we have to throw some tax credits in there that are not the bulk of the bill, I'll probably accept it.

If you wake up Dec. 9 having won the Democratic primary in this race for the U.S. Senate —

What do you mean if, Bob?

-- (laughs) How will you change your campaign to beat your Republican opponent?

Um, I won't. The issues then become a little bit more clear. From what I've seen, both Republican candidates follow the typical Republican approach toward government, which means the government's always the problem and get out of the way.

But we'll see. I don’t think that any Republican is going to replace Ted Kennedy. I think any one of the Democratic nominees will relatively coast the in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

What do voters need to keep in mind as they go to the polls? Give us the main reason as to why they should vote for Mike Capuano.

Well, I mean, the main reason is what I said right from the beginning: Do they want somebody that can combine philosophy with the ability to get things done? The other three candidates, although they seem to be fine people, have no experience in any legislative body.

Not the House, not the Legislature, not the City Council, not the PTA — not the Girl Scouts, for all I know. The commonwealth of Massachusetts deserves somebody who knows how to get things done in Washington.

You're pretty optimistic you're going to win next week.

Sure I am.

Have you always been an optimist?

I think you can't not be an optimist if you are in government. I'm in politics because I believe life can and should be better. If I wasn’t an optimist, I couldn’t hold that position.

Mike Capuano, thank you very much for coming in.

Thanks, Bob.

This program aired on November 30, 2009.


More from WBUR

Listen Live