A hard-nosed former prosecutor who led the 1997 case against Louise Woodward, the then teenage British nanny accused of murder in the shaking-death of the baby in her care, has emerged as the likely next US Senator from Massachusetts who will take over the seat occupied for nearly sixty years by the Kennedys or their friends.
In primary elections yesterday, voters picked Martha Coakley, now the state Attorney General, from a wide field of Democratic runners for the right to fight a special election for Ted Kennedy’s old seat in January. While Ms Coakley will face Republican Scott Brown in that race, voters in the mostly liberal state have not sent a Republican to the US Senate in thirty years. Barring great surprise the seat is almost hers already.
Ms Coakley, 56, went into the primary race with strong name recognition not only because of the campaign she fought to become Attorney General in 2006 but also thanks to the Woodward trial that played out amid a cacophony of national and international headlines twelve years ago. Her team won a second degree murder jury verdict but it was later reduced to manslaughter by the judge and Ms Woodward was freed on time served.
After the death of Teddy Kennedy in August from a brain tumour, the state assembly changed the laws to fill the seat temporarily pending the special elections. Senator Paul Kirk, the appointee, arrived in Washington in part to ensure that the filibuster-proof 60-seat majority of the Democrats would be preserved during the effort to pass healthcare reform. He agreed, however, not to run in the special election.
Ms Coakley sailed to victory on Tuesday, gleaning as many votes as her two closest rivals combined. If she prevails in January, she will become the first woman US Senator ever from Massachusetts. She will also end the long Kennedy line in the chamber. The seat was first won by John F. Kennedy in 1952. After JFK became president, it passed briefly to a former Harvard University roommate before Teddy Kennedy won it in 1962.
In her campaign this time, Ms Coakley allied herself painstakingly to most of the policy positions of President Barack Obama. As Attorney General, meanwhile, she defined herself in part by taking a tough stance on Wall Street. Under her watch, Massachusetts became the first state to extract compensation from a Wall Street firm – Goldman Sachs in fact – as a settlement for claims arising from the subprime lending mess.
“When Wall Street melted down, people in Massachusetts got burned,” she intoned in one of her television ads. “The big banks and scam artists that got us into this mess have got to be held accountable.”
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