Massachusetts holds primary elections for Edward Kennedy's Senate seat

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is one of four Democratic candidates for the seat.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is one of four Democratic candidates for the seat. (Josh Reynolds/associated Press)
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley won Tuesday's Democratic primary to replace the late senator Edward M. Kennedy (D), making her the favorite to win the seat next month.

Coakley will face state Sen. Scott Brown (R) in the Jan. 19 general election, with the winner becoming the first person not closely affiliated with the Kennedy family to hold the Senate seat since 1952.

Brown was endorsed by much of the state's GOP establishment, and he overwhelmed lawyer Jack E. Robinson in the primary, drawing nearly 90 percent of the vote.

Coakley, meanwhile, had more votes than her two closest competitors combined in the four-candidate field. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, she had 47 percent of the vote, with U.S. Rep. Michael E. Capuano running second with 28 percent.

Because of Massachusetts's heavily liberal tilt, Coakley is likely to become the state's first female senator. Either Coakley or Brown would occupy a seat to which John F. Kennedy was elected in 1953. After Kennedy's election to the presidency, the seat was briefly held by his former roommate at Harvard before Edward Kennedy won it in 1962, when he was 30 years old. He died in August from brain cancer as the fourth-longest-serving senator ever.

The winner on Jan. 19 will replace Sen. Paul Kirk (D), a former aide to Edward Kennedy and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. After Kennedy's death, Bay State lawmakers changed Massachusetts law to allow a temporary Senate replacement, in a bid to help congressional Democrats pass the health-care legislation that Kennedy had championed.

Kirk pledged not to run in the special election as a condition of his appointment on Sept. 24.

Coakley led in early polling in the race -- in part because of high name recognition after her 2006 attorney general campaign -- and never surrendered that advantage. The field of candidates also included Steve Pagliuca, a co-owner of basketball's Boston Celtics, and Alan Khazei, co-founder of a national volunteer program called City Year.

Coakley, a longtime prosecutor, was backed by former president Bill Clinton (she was an early endorser of Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential bid) and the powerful women's group Emily's List.

Capuano, meanwhile, was endorsed by several of the state's congressional representatives, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The Kennedy family did not formally back a candidate, although Kennedy's niece Caroline attended a fundraiser for Khazei.

Coakley cast herself as a consistent vote for President Obama's agenda on issues such as health care. If she replaces Kirk, Democrats will still effectively control 60 votes, giving them the power to end Republican filibusters.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company