THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Joan Vennochi

Brown’s best hope is a chilly Coakley

By Joan Vennochi
January 7, 2010

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REPUBLICAN SCOTT Brown still needs a political miracle to win Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. But a cool opponent is giving him hope.

One voter survey puts Brown within nine points of Democrat Martha Coakley. The relative tightness of their race may be due to bad polling. Or it could be fallout from a low-key campaign. So far, Attorney General Coakley seems to be taking the outcome of the special election on Jan. 19 for granted. “Maybe I don’t get up and scream and yell about what I care about,’’ Coakley said during a visit to The Globe yesterday. “I’ve been incredibly practical’’ about pushing an agenda, she added.

But, “practical’’ is different from Kennedy-style passion.

Brown’s positions should be poison to Massachusetts voters who sent Kennedy to Washington for 47 years.

Healthcare reform was the cause of Kennedy’s life. After he died, Paul G. Kirk Jr., a Kennedy family confidante, was appointed interim senator to make sure he would be the 60th vote in favor of pending legislation. Brown pledges to be the 41st vote against it - even though, as a state senator, he voted for the Massachusetts plan that serves as the national template.

Kennedy was prochoice. Brown said he supports Roe v. Wade. But, he’s backed by Massachusetts Citizens for Life, an antiabortion group whose website states it supports Brown “because he will be a prolife vote in the Senate.’’ Kennedy might call that “multiple choice,’’ the line he used against Republican Mitt Romney during their 1994 showdown.

Kennedy unequivocally said that waterboarding was torture. Brown’s position: “I believe that it’s not torture. America does not torture. We used aggressively enhanced interrogation techniques.’’ This puts Brown at odds not only with Kennedy, but with Senator John McCain of Arizona, the GOP 2008 presidential nominee who recently endorsed him.

The ideological divide between Brown and Kennedy is huge. But, Brown still had the chutzpah to try to steal the Kennedy mantle by running an ad that puts him in the same fiscal camp as John F. Kennedy.

The Coakley-Brown showdown comes at a challenging time for Democrats. President Obama’s ratings have been dropping. Two longtime Democratic senators - Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota - are not seeking re-election. In Dodd’s case, there was a good chance he could not win.

In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick is having trouble raising money. Charles D. Baker, a Republican gubernatorial hopeful, has amassed a $1.85 million war chest over five months. Against that backdrop, Coakley is running a flat campaign.

It’s an extension of the strategy that ended in victory against three primary rivals who were wary of roughing up the only woman in the race. But it’s dangerous up against Brown. Like George W. Bush, he’s making the case that he stands for something, like it or not.

Coakley seems afraid to say what she believes in, giving voters reason to conclude she believes in nothing. With healthcare reform, she sounds like she believes in what’s necessary at any given moment. During the primary, she said she would vote against a bill that restricted abortion funding. Now, she supports a Senate bill that includes restrictions less severe than those in the House version.

There are other examples of a campaign lacking in soul and a candidate lacking in heart.

When Brown first said he supported waterboarding, Coakley initially ducked: “My question is - is waterboarding effective and is waterboarding something that works to get information and to make people safe and there is no evidence that it is.’’ Eventually, she said she supports Obama’s ban on the procedure. It’s a far cry from a Kennedy-like line in the sand.

Coakley still speaks like the career prosecutor she is, not like the crusading lawmaker Bay State voters are used to rallying around.

Her style gives Brown more of a shot than he deserves - if Kennedy’s liberal stands still represent the prevailing view in Massachusetts.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com