For the first time in half a century, the state's voters are going to the polls without a Kennedy to choose on the ballot to fill a storied Senate seat.
They do have four Democrats, from political insiders to newcomers, and two Republicans who face off in their party primaries Tuesday for the opportunity to fill the seat held by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who died of brain cancer in August at age 77.
Kennedy was first elected to the Senate in 1962. His family has been careful not to put its endorsement on any candidate. His widow, Vicki Kennedy, has called the field of Democrats — Attorney General Martha Coakley, Rep. Michael Capuano, City Year service organization co-founder Alan Khazei and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca — "four outstanding candidates."
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The race is notable for other reasons, too. Voters are doing something they have not done in Massachusetts since 1984: vote in a U.S. Senate race with no incumbent.
Not since Paul Tsongas decided to step down after a cancer diagnosis have they had an unfettered chance to fill a Senate seat. John Kerry, who went on to be the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential nominee, won that race.
Kennedy's seat has been held on an interim basis by Paul G. Kirk Jr., a Kennedy friend and the former Democratic National Committee chairman.
Coakley and Republican state Sen. Scott Brown led in preprimary public opinion polls. Brown faces Duxbury businessman Jack E. Robinson for the Republican nomination.
The nominees will face off in the general election Jan. 19.
The campaign has been notable for its lack of drama, observers said.
"I think the candidates have acquitted themselves well," said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. "In a very short period of time, they have offered intelligent and reasoned campaign stands, and they've competed vigorously."
Coakley, 56, has targeted women and abortion rights supporters. Her last-minute pitch included prerecorded robocalls 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."
Brown, 50, is an attorney, lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard and triathlete who has carved out a decidedly more conservative record. While Coakley opposes her own party leader, President Barack Obama, sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Brown supports the Democrat and the buildup. He's also gained some notoriety as the father of an "American Idol" contestant and for his nude centerfold in Cosmo when he was in college.
Capuano, 57, is a six-term congressman who targeted the relatively small crowd of party loyalists expected to vote by highlighting his votes against the USA Patriot Act and the war in Iraq.
Khazei, 48, is a political newcomer who started the youth activism program City Year and other civic engagement programs.
Pagliuca, 54, also is a first-time political candidate. He made a fortune estimated at $400 million by working at the private equity and venture capital firms that enriched 2008 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
The 49-year-old Robinson has become a perennial candidate after unsuccessful Senate, House and secretary of state campaigns.
A Boston Globe survey last month found Coakley leading Capuano 43 percent to 22 percent among likely voters, but it also found that only 26 percent of respondents saying they had definitely settled on a candidate. Another 24 percent said they were leaning toward one, while 50 percent described themselves as uncertain.
A Suffolk University poll last month found Brown leading Robinson 45 percent to 7 percent, with 47 percent undecided.
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