NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 9, 2009

Brown, Coakley sail in Senate primary

By Katie Curley Katzman

Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Sen. Scott Brown secured a place in the final campaign for the U.S. Senate last night with easy wins in the primary yesterday, with statewide results mirrored in local towns.

Coakley earned 47 percent of the vote, ahead of Rep. Michael Capuano with 28 percent, City Year co-founder Alan Khazei with 13 percent and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca — who spent millions of his own money on the campaign — with 12 percent.

Brown was running against Duxbury lawyer Jack E. Robinson. Brown took nearly 90 percent of the Republican vote, including a high percentage of votes from unenrolled voters statewide.

The election to fill the seat held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy for 47 years was the first time since 1984 that Massachusetts residents voted in a U.S. Senate race with no incumbent.

Local turnouts ranged from as low as 17 percent in Amesbury to as high as 23 percent in West Newbury. In Boston, turnout was just 10 percent.

Kennedy died Aug. 25 of brain cancer. His seat has been held on an interim basis by Paul G. Kirk Jr., a former Democratic National Committee chairman, until it is filled permanently on Jan. 19.

Coakley's biggest threat was Capuano, who had widespread support among local politicians as well as unions across the state. But Capuano wasn't able to translate that into enough votes, finishing with about half Coakley's vote total in most local towns.

Brown, an Attleboro resident who spent part of his youth in Newburyport, faces an uphill challenge against his Democratic opponent. In his victory speech last night, Brown, who has built a relatively conservative record, stressed he is an "independent voice" in the state.

His father, C. Bruce Brown, a Plum Island resident and former Newburyport City Councilor, said people shouldn't underestimate his son's chances.

"I'm pretty darn proud of him," Brown said as he celebrated the win with his son and granddaughters at the Newton Marriott. "If you went to Plum Island, you saw all the signs ... I'm amazed."

C. Bruce Brown said he couldn't believe the amount of support his son has received already.

"Romney called him to congratulate him," he said. "You hear Scott on the radio, see him on TV, read about him. It's amazing."

Local Republicans said they banded together to help their local candidate out.

"We had a good group of volunteers out there," said Larry Guinta, chairman of the Newburyport Republican Committee, noting local voters also received calls from a phone campaign sponsored by Bill Hudak for Congress Campaign. "A lot of credit goes out to C. Bruce Brown. He worked tirelessly to garner support for Scott."

Coakley, 56, who was elected attorney general in 2006, targeted women and abortion rights supporters in her campaign. Her last-minute pitch included prerecorded calls from former President Bill Clinton, who said, "You can trust her to get results in the Senate just as she has as your attorney general."

While Coakley opposes sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Brown supports President Obama's buildup.

To beat Coakley, Brown will need to engage an electorate that met the primary with a level of complacency, evidenced by turnouts that were similar to the primary turnouts for the mayoral elections in September, and far less than came out for the final mayoral election.

Yesterday at 5 p.m. in the Ward 2 polling location at Brown School, there were about one or two people trickling in to cast their votes and barely any cars along the street.

"I've seen much less people than the mayoral election; the numbers were definitely higher (in November)," said Candace Erickson, who was working one of the tables to check people out.

Erickson also mentioned that she didn't see too many people out holding signs supporting candidates. However on the corner of Prospect Street, Paul Breau, Republican Party vice chairman for the city, could be found by himself braving the cold.

"We are just showing our dedication, just hoping that maybe a person voting independent drives by and sees a guy standing by himself with a sign for Scott Brown," Breau said.

Maybe it is the cold that's getting to people or the fact that this election is simply a primary, but the consensus seems to be what the empty hallways and almost empty gym are saying, not too many people are voting this year.

"I think it's because people aren't particularly excited about this race. They don't see a big difference in the candidates. They seem pleased with them all," Erickson said.

— The Associated Press and staff writer Danielle Rines contributed to this report.