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Scot Lehigh

What makes Coakley run

By Scot Lehigh
Globe Columnist / October 7, 2009

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OUR INTERVIEW is nearly over, and all of a sudden Martha Coakley is trying to sell me a 100-acre plot in Preposterousville.

Running for the US Senate is tough if you lack a big bank account or a politically connected name, she begins.

“I don’t mean to make me a martyr in this, but that was a risk jumping into this race, to get in not knowing who else was going to get in, could you raise the money,’’ she continues. “But I felt strongly enough about the need for good, strong leadership, as I did when I ran for DA . . .’’

Now wait, I interject, isn’t the real reason she’s running that, just like everyone else in this race, she’s ambitious and wants to be a US senator, and not because of concerns about the quality of leadership in Washington?

“You know, that is a male approach to this thing,’’ the attorney general replies. “Men will play to fight and win. My experience is women get into causes and things they care about, that they want to make a difference.’’

She adds: “I don’t say I’m not ambitious. But . . . I’m going to have to commute back and forth. [Memo to Harry Reid: Could a new senator telecommute?] I’m not saying it’s a bad job, but my husband and I talked a lot about this, the changes . . . I love being AG. It’s comfortable here in Massachusetts. This is not like an easy thing I’m doing.’’

Hmmm . . . Could I offer some unsolicited advice? US senator is one of the best jobs in the country. Nobody is going to buy the notion that you’re running primarily out of a sense of idealism or duty. After all, you’ve been eyeing a Senate seat since your days as Middlesex district attorney.

You’re viewed as smart, determined, and politically ambitious. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that. So even if you truly believe you’re motivated by loftier concerns than your rivals, I’d keep that assessment to myself.

On to other issues. Coakley is clearly ready to mix it up with US Representative Michael Capuano, who recently declared that she wasn’t a liberal and who has painted her as cautious about addressing national issues.

“I’m as progressive and liberal as Mike Capuano,’’ she asserts. “And in fact I have a record to show that.’’

Although Capuano has criticized her for not speaking out early on the Iraq War, “I was not in an office where it was my responsibility to vote for or against it,’’ says Coakley, who was Middlesex DA when the war resolution was debated in the fall of 2002. That’s a fair point - though it’s also fair to note that Barack Obama spoke out back then as a state senator, a stance that helped enormously in his presidential campaign last year.

Coakley also seems intent on turning the tables on her rival. She has been decrying predatory lending and the lack of regulation of Wall Street since she became attorney general in 2007, she asserts.

“Congressman Capuano was in the Congress during this period. What did he do about predatory lending?’’ she asks. “What did he do about what’s happening on Wall Street?’’

He’s tried to do plenty, says Capuano. “I got on the [House] Financial Services Committee when I first got to Congress,’’ he says. “I have been working since day one to regulate Wall Street. I know this stuff cold.’’

So has any of his legislation passed?

“No,’’ he concedes. “But we are working on it as we speak.’’

Capuano notes that US Representative Barney Frank, who chairs the Financial Services panel, has been the House’s leading figure on those issues, but says “I believe I have been a very valuable lieutenant.’’

Perhaps realizing that that description is more notable for its candor than its grandeur, Capuano adds: “If you think somebody of my seniority can be the general, you will never get anything done in Congress.’’

Today’s takeaway?

Here’s one.

The debates in this race will be great political theater.

Don’t miss them.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com.

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