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Between the postures and positions | Joan Vennochi

A stark contrast in the styles of Capuano, Coakley

From left, Stephen Pagliuca, Martha Coakley, Alan Khazei, and Michael Capuano at last night's debate. From left, Stephen Pagliuca, Martha Coakley, Alan Khazei, and Michael Capuano at last night's debate. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)
By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / December 2, 2009

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THE JOYLESS pursuit to replace Ted Kennedy drags on.

Last night’s debate among the four Democratic candidates did nothing to change the dynamics in this special Senate election.

Indeed, when you have two guys fighting over abortion, it’s a decent night for Martha Coakley.

Suddenly, Michael Capuano started talking like Gloria Steinem, as he challenged Stephen Pagliuca on his pro-choice credentials. Have you ever known a poor woman who didn’t have the money to pay for an abortion? Capuano demanded. Pagliuca said he did.

Their squabbling was a reminder that Coakley, the only woman in the race, first made abortion rights an issue when the House of Representatives passed a health care reform bill with an amendment restricting access to abortion.

Capuano, who voted for the legislation, later said he would vote against a final version if the restrictions prevailed. He repeated that last night, while citing other possible reasons to vote against it - an inadequate public option or provisions that hurt what he called Massachusetts’ parochial interests.

The cranky exchange between Capuano and Pagliuca was the most contentious moment of the night.

Capuano tried to corner Coakley on the Patriot Act, which gave government sweeping surveillance and regulatory powers after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He opposed it and said she’s wrong to suggest it can be rewritten to protect civil liberties.

But Coakley followed the script that has so far rewarded her with frontrunner status.

When Capuano smolders, Coakley stays cool. When he or Pagliuca push for specifics, she ducks. She leaves the vision thing to Alan Khazei - the other beneficiary of last night’s debate. Khazei was the only one to offer even a sliver of the optimism about government that Kennedy symbolized.

Joan Vennochi’s e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.