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Coakley won’t debate Brown one-on-one

Declines invitation to Jan. 6 TV forum

Martha Coakley says voters need to hear from all three candidates before the US Senate Jan. 19 special election. Martha Coakley says voters need to hear from all three candidates before the US Senate Jan. 19 special election.
By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / December 25, 2009

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The US Senate campaign of Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley formally rejected for the first time yesterday an invitation to participate in a two-person televised debate with Republican state Senator Scott P. Brown.

Coakley’s campaign declined to take part in a proposed Jan. 6 debate sponsored by The Boston Globe, NECN, WGBH-TV, and WBUR-FM, because it would not include Joseph L. Kennedy, a little-known independent candidate also on the ballot. “We are not going to do the debate under present circumstances,’’ Kevin Conroy, Coakley’s campaign manager, said yesterday.

The decision means that Coakley, despite the high-profile nature of the race, has so far agreed to participate in just one live, televised debate in Boston, the state’s major media market.

That debate, on Jan. 11, will also include Kennedy and take place at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Coakley has also agreed to a radio debate with both Kennedy and Brown on Jan. 5, and a televised debate with the two men on Jan. 8 in Springfield on public television station WGBY.

Brown has repeatedly challenged Coakley to appear in two additional debates to be televised in the Boston market without Kennedy, saying voters deserve a chance to see the major-party nominees emphasize their differences in a direct setting. Coakley, he said this week, was trying to “hide in the bunker and accept periodic debates.’’

Coakley has said voters need to hear from all three candidates before the Jan. 19 special election.

“There are three candidates on the ballot,’’ Corey Welford, a spokesman for Coakley, said earlier this week. “And we believe it’s important that voters have the opportunity to hear from all three candidates on their positions and their records.’’

Eric Fehrnstrom, an adviser to Brown, said last night: “This is an arrogant decision by the candidate of the one-party political machine in this state. Martha Coakley can try to avoid Scott Brown, but she can’t hide from voters who are fed up with business as usual in Washington.’’

Brown’s campaign has accused Coakley of hypocrisy for urging that an obscure candidate be included in the debate, noting that Coakley refused to debate her Republican opponent, Cambridge lawyer Larry Frisoli, when she was running for attorney general in 2006.

“Until he says something that’s true or worth debating, I’m not going to waste my time,’’ Coakley told the Globe at the time.

In addition to the debate she rejected yesterday, Coakley has been invited to participate in a debate sponsored by WCVB-TV, though it is not clear if she will attend. Station executives could not be reached last night.

The three candidates have met twice before: Monday, on WBZ radio, and Tuesday at the studios of WBZ-TV. The latter debate, which was carried live on the station’s website, will be broadcast at 8 a.m. Sunday on WBZ-TV, and at 7 p.m. Monday on TV38.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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