Coakley Takes Nothing For Granted In Re-Election Bid

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Republican attorney general candidate James McKenna, left, and Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley, center, participate in a debate in Newton on Sept. 30. (AP)
Republican attorney general candidate James McKenna, left, and Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley, center, participate in a debate in Newton on Sept. 30. (AP)

BOSTON — Attorney General Martha Coakley is everything she was not during her race against Republican Scott Brown for the U.S. Senate. This time she's been doing the kind of retail politicking she didn’t do during her run against Brown — like shaking hands at a pumpkin festival and accepting endorsements in public places such as Faneuil Hall.

Coakley's New Campaign Strategy

"It's a true honor to stand here today," Coakley tells a large group of law enforcement officials. She is also trying hard to connect with voters emotionally. Debbie Eappen, whose son Matthew was killed by his au pair in 1997, endorses Coakley, who won the guilty verdict as an assistant district attorney.

"Martha brought hope to my devastated family," Eappen says. "The jury reached a verdict of murder in the second degree right before Halloween. Martha Coakley continues her support to victims and families."

With the Senate race behind her, Coakley says she’s changed the way she's campaigning in this re-election.

"I understand people’s perceptions. I’ve taken to heart that people felt somehow that I didn’t care, I didn’t work hard. I’ve taken nothing for granted since February," Coakley says.

Since then, Coakley has been on the campaign trail, essentially running against herself and the perceptions of her campaign against Brown. She did not have an opponent for the AG's office until September, when Republican Jim McKenna succeeded as a write-in with 27,000 votes.

"That illustrates just how much the people wanted a change," McKenna says.

Coakley's New Competition

McKenna is a private insurance defense lawyer. He used to be a prosecutor in Suffolk and Worcester Counties. His campaign message is about fighting political corruption and illegal immigration. McKenna says Coakley is soft on illegal immigrants.

"Felons who are being released from prison, illegal immigrants," McKenna says, "aren’t referred for deportation. They are just put back on the street. If Martha Coakley was doing her job, that wouldn’t be the case."

McKenna frequently attacks Coakley for not aggressively pursing public corruption, especially against former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson.

"At the time she was given immunity, she was still accepting bribes, we’ve seen her stuffing bribery money into her clothes. That is something we have to stop," McKenna says.

But Coakley didn’t give Wilkerson immunity. The FBI prosecuted Wilkerson and she pled guilty to attempted extortion. And Coakley points out as a prosecutor she’s brought 40 cases of public corruption.

Coakley, who has been attorney general for the past four years, says she’s running on a record of keeping people safe — by protecting seniors from abuse and fraud, by keeping the Internet safe from child predators, and by holding banks accountable for fair lending.

"It should be about what’s your record, what are you going to do for taxpayers, for consumers, for civil rights, what are you going to do about keeping kids safe, and that’s my challenge to him," Coakley says.

On his website, McKenna doesn't list his positions on health care costs, civil rights and child safety. He says his top priority is restoring trust in government. He calls the federal universal health care law unconstitutional and says he'll do everything in his power to prevent its implementation in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, he will not state his position on gay marriage, which he's been asked about several times, including during a debate on New England Cable News with Jim Braude.

"Do you or do you not support gay marriage?" Braude asked.

"I think the attorney general's role is to enforce law, not revisit settled law such as that," McKenna responded.

Coakley is a longtime supporter of gay marriage.

Coakley and McKenna also differ on the death penalty. She opposes it. McKenna says it should be brought back under some circumstances.

While Coakley has the backing of the Democratic Party machine and most law enforcement, McKenna has picked up some high profile backers, including former Republican Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci.

What McKenna needs is more visibility, which he worked on recently with a campaign stop at Boston University's student center. As a man in a suit, McKenna stands out — but he’s energetic and relaxed.

It’s fair to say McKenna is in an uphill battle against Coakley’s name recognition and reputation. But it’s hard not to make the comparison — a little known Republican lawyer takes on a well-known attorney general... and nothing is certain.

This program aired on October 19, 2010.


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