NEW BEDFORD -- With all eyes trained on Massachusetts' increasingly heated race for a pivotal seat in the US Senate, the major-party candidates made divergent appeals to undecided voters today, with Republican Scott Brown intensifying his rhetoric on terrorism and Democrat Martha Coakley dwelling on economic insecurity.
Brown, a state senator from the small town of Wrentham, buoyed by several polls indicating a closer-than-expected race, kept hammering his message on national security, calling Coakley naive for suggesting terrorists were gone from Afghanistan and for opposing President Obama's planned troop increase there.
Coakley, the state's attorney general, toured a New Bedford clothing factory to highlight her job creation plan and sought to link Brown to what she called the "failed economic policies" of the Bush-Cheney administration. She challenged her opponent to take a position on President Obama's new proposal for a bailout tax on the nation's largest banks for up to 10 years, designed to recoup taxpayers' investment in the recovery.
"I would support this proposal because it holds the largest Wall Street firms accountable for their abuses that caused millions of people to lose their jobs, as well as it works to recover the hard-earned taxpayer dollars of the middle class," Coakley said in a statement.
Asked by a reporter, Brown initially declined to state his position on Obama's proposal. Later, his campaign released a statement saying he opposes it. "Scott Brown is opposed to higher taxes, especially in the midst of a severe recession," his campaign said. "Martha Coakley's tax-raising policies will make it harder to get our economy back on the right track."
On Friday, both candidates will get a boost from political titans from their respective parties. Former New York mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, whose leadership on Sept. 11, 2001 made him an icon, will campaign with Brown through the North End. Coakley gets a visit from former President Bill Clinton.
It remains unclear whether Obama will visit Massachusetts on her behalf this weekend, but he recorded a web video that asks voters to rally behind Coakley's campaign and lauds her work taking on "Wall Street schemes, insurance company abuses, and big polluters."
Brown today sought to target Coakley for saying during a debate Monday night that the US does not need to beef up its troop presence in Afghanistan because terrorists are now concentrated in Yemen and Pakistan. Last month, in a speech explaining his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, Obama called the region "the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11 and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak."
"Martha Coakley's statement on Monday reveals a deeply troubling lack of awareness and understanding of the threats facing our troops and on our national security," Brown, joined by veterans, told reporters at the Omni Parker House hotel in Boston.
Coakley defended her comments, while acknowleding that some Al Qaeda remain in Afghanistan.
"The only point is this: that Al Qaeda is not a country, and it is a moveable enterprise," Coakley told reporters. "What we are concerned about is Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-trained terrorists who want to attack us on our homeland, and we need to be smart about how we use our resources.”
Asked whether Brown's military background gave him standing on national security, she said, "I disagree," and pointed to her record as a prosecutor.
"I've spent 25 years keeping people safe, including right after 9/11," said Coakley, who noted her father was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. "I cede my patriotism to no one."
Brown, a 30-year member of the Army National Guard, also again criticized Coakley's support for civilian trials for terrorism suspects, saying that what they need now is not more lawyers. But Brown -- himself a judge advocate general who works as a military lawyer -- acknowledged that suspected terrorists also have representation from taxpayer-funded lawyers like himself at military tribunals. "That's fine. I'm satisfied with that," he said.
Brown made the distinction that in court, suspected terrorists could get "rights that they're not entitled to, for example taking the Fifth, which a lot of them are doing."
This afternoon, Coakley toured the Joseph Abboud Manufacturing Corp. clothing factory in New Bedford, highlighting the need for more jobs in the state's high-tech sector, fishing industry, and cranberry bogs.
“There’s no reason that we in Massachusetts can’t be the leader in returning quality manufacturing back here," Coakley said.
Coakley, who has tried to portray Brown as a far-right conservative Republican, said, “Let Scott Brown stand behind and tell people what he really stands for. He won’t answer questions about choice; he won't answer questions about who he really is.”
Brown continued to resist the characterization, telling reporters that he eschews labels. On Wednesday, he labeled as "inaccurate" assertions by Coakley's campaign that, as a state senator, he has voted 96 percent of the time with Republicans under the Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei -- even though he said he was proud to stand up against spending and taxing in Massachusetts. A few hours later, in a radio interview, Brown said, "I love how they say I voted 90 plus times—percent of the time with the Senator Tisei. Well, I’m guilty."
Brown has been enjoying a surge of national interest in his campaign -- several polls have shown him closing the gap with Coakley -- and today he released a new TV ad, called "Momentum," in which he meets and greets voters on the streets of South Boston.
The possibility that a Republican could claim the seat held by Edward M. Kennedy for 47 years has energized both campaigns. Outside groups have been pouring money into negative TV ads on behalf of their candidates; today, the League of Conservation Voters added to the mix, with a $350,000 ad buy criticizing Brown's environmental record.
Secretary of State William Galvin today said that absentee ballot applications were coming in in larger numbers from suburban communities where Republicans are more prevalent, and in smaller numbers in urban centers and traditionally liberal cities. The liberal bastion of Cambridge, for example, has received applications for just 635 absentee ballots, down from 1,653 in the 2006 gubernatorial race, Galvin said. The application deadline is 5 p.m. Friday.
"There's enough information to say there is some energy on the Republican side and a lack of energy on the Democrat side," he said.
Brown and Coakley are racing to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Edward M. Kennedy, who represented the state for 47 years in Washington, becoming a liberal legend. Independent Joseph L. Kennedy, who is no relation to the late senator, is also running.
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