It’s Coakley big; but Boston still likes Capuano

U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano had a good ground game, but Attorney General Martha Coakley had a better one, taking in a landslide the Democratic nomination in the U.S. Senate race to replace the late Edward M. Kennedy.

If she wins the Jan. 19 special election against state Sen. Scott Brown (R-Wrentham), Coakley will become the state’s first female U.S. senator. The frontrunner since the beginning of the race in September, she is widely expected to prevail.

“When you’re a statewide candidate, it gives you an edge,” said District 3 Councillor Maureen Feeney, a Capuano supporter, referring to Coakley’s 2006 election as state attorney general. “History was made tonight.”

“I think she ran a flawless campaign,” added Stacey Monahan, executive director of the state Democratic Party and one of a number of party officials who stayed out of the four-way Democratic primary over the last three months that it lasted.

“I think we had the best ground game in the race,” said Dan Cullinane, a Dorchester resident who previously worked in Feeney’s office and is serving as deputy field director for Coakley.

Coakley, of Medford, received 47 percent statewide, while Capuano of Somerville grabbed 28 percent. CityYear co-founder Alan Khazei of Brookline and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca of Weston received 13 percent and 12 percent of the vote, respectively.

Capuano beat Coakley by a 1,800-vote margin in Boston, where 18.72 percent of registered voters, or 67,000 people, went to the polls. He received 24,402 votes, while Coakley nabbed 22,572.

In her victory speech at the Sheraton Boston, Coakley said voters were sending her to Washington as a “different kind of leader….one who can see all of the possibilities, and who will get to work on those problems that have seemed impossible to change.”

Down the road at the Fairmont Copley Hotel, Capuano gave his analysis of the outcome, saying name recognition was what carried the day for Coakley. “She didn’t make any slip ups,” he added.” And we just couldn’t close the gap.”

Both Coakley and Capuano have Dorchester ties. Capuano’s mother grew up in the area near St. Gregory’s church and his Eighth Congressional District includes the west side of Dorchester, leading to close relationships between Capuano and Dorchester activists and politicians.
Raised in North Adams, Coakley lived in Pope’s Hill for about 14 years. In 1997, she came in fourth in a five-way race to replace retired state Rep. James Brett, losing to current state Rep. Marty Walsh (D-Savin Hill). She left the area soon after and has not lost a race for public office since.

All four Democratic candidates spent time in Dorchester in the waning days of the campaign, with Coakley holding an election eve rally at the IBEW Hall on Freeport St. and dropping by the famed Eire Pub, the site of previous campaign trail visits by presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

But Boston, and Dorchester to an extent, was Capuano country.
While Coakley and Capuano were both considered the establishment-backed candidates, nearly all the members of the Boston delegation and a majority of the City Council backed Capuano. Many cited his deep involvement in local issues, such as helping save Caritas Carney Hospital from financial ruin.

As a former mayor of Somerville, Capuano “understands the strains cities and towns are under,” said West Roxbury’s district councillor, John Tobin. “The silver lining is we still have him as a congressman,” he added.

Calling the attorney general “very accomplished,” Tobin said that Coakley’s gender played a “big role” in the race.

The “historic appeal” of potentially electing the first female U.S. senator in Massachusetts was a factor, said City Councillor-Elect Felix Arroyo. “Massachusetts should be proud of itself.”
Added state Rep. Marie St. Fleur (D-Uphams Corner), a Capuano supporter who had expressed interest in running for his seat had he won. “It was about the idea of making history.”

Massachusetts is known as a progressive state, but it has lagged in promoting female and minority candidates to leadership positions both inside and outside the political sector, she said. “You can understand the groundswell of support [for Coakley]. Everything in life happens for a reason. Maybe we needed Michael exactly where he is.”

In the Republican primary, state Sen. Brown bested Jack E. Robinson of Duxbury, who had previously run for Kennedy seat.

Both Coakley and Brown face Joseph Kennedy, an independent candidate with no relation to the politically-active Kennedy family.

Material from the State House News Service contributed to this report.