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Berkshire Democrats Mixed on Coakley's Run


Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has announced she will run for governor in 2014, but Democrats in the western part of the state are ambivalent.

Coakley kicked off her official campaign for governor by starting a tour of 18 towns and cities across the commonwealth Monday. But Sheila Murray, who represents local Democrats as the chair of the Berkshire Brigades, says people haven’t forgotten Coakley’s Senate loss to Republican Scott Brown in 2010’s special election.

“It’s not something that people think she should be doing,” Murray said. “That was a tremendous loss. That wasn’t a small loss; that was big. There are some people who won’t even give it the time of day.”

Murray says she’s been getting mixed reactions from Democrats since Coakley’s entry into a crowded field. She says some Democrats are excited to have Coakley in the race despite the 2010 result, and Democratic State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield agrees.

“While folks will always wish that we had won that race, I think that people are ready to give the Attorney General another chance,” Downing said. “I think if she’s out there listening to people, asking them what their priorities are and able to talk about what she’s done as Attorney General then 2010 isn’t going to be the issue. The issue is going to be is she the right candidate.”

Coakley has been knocked for not campaigning enough or at all during the run-up up to the special election to fill the Senate seat previously held by Democrat Ted Kennedy for nearly 50 years. A stain on her record has been the vacation she took after winning the Democratic nomination.

“She didn’t campaign,” Murray said. “She wasn’t out there. It was Ted Kennedy’s seat, so of course a Democrat was going to win. It was kind of taken for granted.”

Even though Coakley is a native of North Adams, Murray says she didn’t spend enough time in the Berkshires. Murray hopes she will change that with her stops scheduled for Pittsfield and North Adams Tuesday.

“She didn’t come out here as much as she should have, especially coming from this area,” she said. “But, I’m sure she’s learned. I’m sure that’s going to be part of her stump speech, to reassure people that she realizes what happened and how she is going to make it different this time.”

Beyond voter visibility, Murray admits Coakley’s work as Attorney General over the past five years may help her.

“She’s been doing a fabulous job as Attorney General,” Murray said. “Whether that’s a redeeming factor, it could be. Voters tend to have short-term memories too.”

Downing says Coakley’s recent experience gives her good standing among the other candidates.

“Social justice, marriage equality, equal and civil rights to energy issues, health care…she’s been involved in any number of issues,” said Downing.

The Democratic field is stacking up with state Treasurer Steven Grossman, national security expert Juliette Kayyem, former Medicare and Medicaid administrator Donald Berwick and biotech executive Joseph Avellone. State Senator Dan Wolf has suspended his campaign while he contests an Ethics Commission ruling. Massachusetts Congressman Mike Capuano is expected to make a decision about running in a few weeks. Murray says a packed field may help, but there is a limit.

“A good sized field is good because it sharpens the candidates,” Murray said. “They really have to be clear on what their positions are and they have to be clear on presenting that to the voter. Sometimes when there aren’t that many they don’t have to be that clear because there’s really no competition. We're at six Democrats now, so I don’t know how many more can come in.”

Charlie Baker, who was the Republican nominee for governor in 2010, is the only announced Republican candidate for 2014. Governor Deval Patrick is not seeking a third term.

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