Democratic attorney general Martha Coakley's campaign strategy is pretty simple: If she can run out the clock and deny Republican state senator Scott Brown the chance to make any big plays, she wins the January 19 special election to fill Ted Kennedy's seat. That's why she's agreed to "just one live, televised debate [on January 11] in Boston, the state’s major media market," has declined any debate that doesn't include libertarian candidate Joseph Kennedy, and has been avoiding the media.

So Brown and Coakley faced off on Coakley's terms this morning during a 9:00 a.m. radio debate that included the libertarian candidate. Those listening would have heard Brown land a few punches against Coakley, most notably during the discussion of health care and terrorism. He argued that the Democrats' multi-trillion dollar health care plan is "absolutely not a good deal for Massachusetts," which already has a health care program to promote universal coverage. "Seniors should be scared," Brown said after pointing out the deep Medicare cuts in the legislation. Coakley argued that the federal legislation would help Massachusetts defray its high health-care costs.

When the topic turned to Christmas Day would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Brown criticized Coakley's position that we should give "enemy combatants constitutional rights and try them in civilian courts at taxpayer expense.... They should be transferred to military facilities and interrogated."

“It’s time we stopped acting like lawyers, and started acting like patriots,” Brown said. He then asked Coakley, "Do we Mirandize Bin Laden?"

The attorney general sidestepped the question twice, answering, "If [bin Laden] is captured as an enemy combatant, he will be treated in the military tribunal system"--without specifying the circumstances that would make bin Laden an enemy combatant. "The whole problem, it seems to me, was that the watch list was not complete enough," Coakley said of the attempted terrorist attack.

Following the debate, Coakley proved fairly successful at ducking questions while speaking to TV and print reporters. When asked if all foreign terrorists detained on U.S. soil have the same constitutional rights as U.S. citizens, Coakley said, "I think those are decisions made by the authorities involved, whether it's the CIA, the FBI, or the attorney general."

After the TV cameras stopped rolling, Coakley balked when asked (by me) if Democrat Deval Patrick has done a good job as governor (Patrick has a 57% disapproval rating, according to today's Rasmussen poll). "Who are you?" Coakley asked in response to the question. After telling her I was a reporter at THE WEEKLY STANDARD, she said, "We'll make arrangements to talk to you later," and walked away.

But to my surprise, and to the attorney general's credit, about five minutes later she reemerged after huddling with campaign staffers. She said she would take a few questions, after all.

Asked how the Medicare cuts could be enacted without reducing care, Coakley told me: "That's an issue that senators and the state and everybody would have to deal with in terms of that formula and how we provide [Medicare]." She added, "We've been very effective in the AG's office in cutting Medicaid fraud."

Asked whether she'd like to see the health-care legislation funded through a surtax on high income earners (the House bill) or on so-called Cadillac plans (the Senate bill), Coakley said: "I want to look at those numbers before I make that decision."

And on Deval Patrick, Coakley said: "I think [Gov. Patrick]'s doing the best that he can under those economic circumstances"--i.e., the recession "created by Bush-Cheney economic policies."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for her colleague in the State House--and a suggestion that Brown’s positioning himself as an alternative to both the Democrats running Congress and the Democrats running Massachusetts might be having some impact.

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