LYNN -- US Senate candidate Martha Coakley suggested today that she would not agree to debates unless long-shot candidate Joseph L. Kennedy is included, a strategy that appears to be an effort to make the contest a three-person affair.
"I think it's very important at this stage in the game that everybody on the ballot be involved in these debates,'' she said this afternoon. "The campaigns are in the process of talking about that now, but there are three candidates and everybody who?s going to cast a ballot on Jan. 19 should know that.''
On Tuesday, Coakley won the Democratic nomination and state Senator Scott Brown won the Republican nomination.
Kennedy, who is no relation to the famed political family, is a Libertarian who launched an independent bid for US Senate. He is the only candidate not in a major party who turned in the 10,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot.
Having a three-way debate would help Coakley, the front-runner in the race, and would make it harder for Brown to clearly differentiate himself from Coakley. As a libertarian, Kennedy is also more likely to pull votes from Brown than he is from Coakley, so giving him broad exposure on a televised debate could hurt Brown's chances.
Coakley said there have been requests made for eight debates, and her campaign is considering them now. When asked whether she would refuse to debate unless Kennedy was included, she said, "We haven't gotten to that yet."
"I'm a Democrat, we live in a democracy, and this is one of the treasures that we have," she said."If people can get the votes and get the support, they're allowed to get their message out to voters. ... He has done what Massachusetts says he needs to to be on the ballot here. In that sense he puts himself out as a candidate.''
Coakley, in her first campaign event since winning the nomination, went to Lynn to tour a health center, where she spoke about the need for national health care reform.
"There are two other candidates who are running," she said. "I believe I'm the only candidate now who ... supports coverage of everybody and reducing our costs through health care reform.?
She also called Brown's request to sign a no-tax pledge a "political gimmick" and said the nation's economy "is not resolved by saying no."
"I would remind everybody that we are in this economic mess primarily because we've had a Bush-Cheney administration for eight years that wouldn't regulate Wall Street," she said.
Brown and Kennedy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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