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Key Kennedys endorsing Coakley

First nod in race by late senator’s kin

By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / January 7, 2010

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After weeks of remaining on the sidelines in the US Senate race, key members of the Kennedy family will throw their weight behind Attorney General Martha Coakley today, hoping to propel her into the seat long held by one of their own.

Coakley, who has not enjoyed a particularly close relationship with the family, is set to receive the blessing in Medford this morning of Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Edward M. Kennedy, as well as Joseph P. Kennedy II, a former congressman and the late senator’s nephew, who opted out of the race; and Senator Paul G. Kirk, a longtime Kennedy friend temporarily occupying the seat. Joseph Kennedy III, the former congressman’s son, will also endorse her.

With less than two weeks before the Jan. 19 vote, the planned endorsements mark the first time that the Kennedys have been active in the campaign in a significant way. It is also Coakley’s most concerted effort to link herself with the Kennedy legacy.

“Senator Kennedy was one of our nation’s greatest advocates for justice, equality, and those less fortunate,’’ Coakley said in a statement. “It is incredibly humbling to receive the support of the members of the Kennedy family, as well as Senator Kirk.’’

During the Democratic primary race, Coakley invoked Kennedy’s name far less often than did her three Democratic rivals, who each featured him in their television ads and pointed to him as inspiration for their campaigns.

Indeed, since she jumped in the race, Coakley has rarely mentioned the legendary senator - her campaign slogan is “A Different Kind of Leader’’ - and some in the Kennedy family were said to be upset that she announced her candidacy so quickly after the late senator died of a brain tumor in August.

But with a national health care bill hanging in the balance, the Kennedy family members are expected to highlight the need for passage of such legislation and state that Coakley is poised to help carry out the late senator’s dream of expanding health care coverage nationally.

Coakley has been looking to inject new life into her campaign after several weeks of light politicking. Her chief rival, Republican nominee Scott Brown, has been campaigning more aggressively and, according to a public poll this week, is within striking distance despite the state’s Democratic leanings.

Brown addressed a breakfast meeting yesterday of the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce in Devens and spoke to middle-school students in Bolton, hitting his main campaign themes at both stops: lower taxes, less spending, and a strong national defense. He also asked voters to consider electing him on a “trial’’ basis, given that just three years remain in Kennedy’s term.

“Consider it a test, a timed trial, because if you don’t like what I’m doing, you can vote me out in a couple years,’’ he told a crowd of nearly 100 in the Devens Common Center ballroom. “But wouldn’t it be interesting to see what I can actually do, and wouldn’t it be nice to have some diversity down there?’’

Brown also said Massachusetts should not clamor for $250 million in federal education grant money that Governor Deval Patrick’s administration hopes to win for the state. The candidate said he was worried about Massachusetts having to meet certain conditions.

“It would be nice to get the money, but there’s always strings attached,’’ Brown told reporters after speaking at the Florence Sawyer School.

Coakley unveiled her first television ad of the general election campaign yesterday. The 30-second spot, entitled “Stand up,’’ will begin airing today and highlights Massachusetts residents struggling with the recession.

“The people hit hardest by this economy deserve a senator who will work hard for them, as I’ve done as your attorney general,’’ Coakley says in the ad.

Brown has taken out two ads so far. Neither campaign would release how much it was spending on television ads. The third candidate in the race, independent Joseph L. Kennedy, has not taken out any ads.

Brown also sought yesterday to get mileage out of illegal immigration, filing legislation to require the state attorney general, a post Coakley currently holds, to document proof of citizenship when prosecuting wage enforcement cases.

Brown said that the attorney general’s office historically has not asked about immigration status when proceeding with wage enforcement cases against an employer, a policy that he says has resulted in illegal immigrants getting benefits that should be provided to tax-paying residents.

Coakley’s campaign said it was reviewing the proposal.

“Martha Coakley has consistently fought to level the playing field for all businesses by holding companies accountable that seek to gain an unfair advantage by violating wage laws and avoiding paying payroll taxes,’’ said campaign spokesman Corey Welford.

Eric Moskowitz of the Globe staff contributed to this report.