U.S. Senate candidate and Attorney General Martha Coakley made a campaign swing through her native Berkshire County on Monday, focusing on health care reform, the federal government's bailout program, and how she'd best represent Massachusetts on Capitol Hill.
Coakley, 56, who resides in Medford with her husband, Thomas O'Connor, is one of four candidates seeking the Democratic Party nomination in the Dec. 8 primary.
Coakley began her tour with breakfast in North Adams, where she grew up. She followed breakfast with a meeting with The Eagle's editorial board, during which she was critical of the federal government's inability to monitor the billions of dollars in bailout funds awarded to corporate America.
Afterward, she ended her Berkshires visit at the American Legion in Pittsfield.
"Even if you give large amounts of money to big companies to keep the economy going," Coakley said, "more strings should have been attached to the money."
Coakley cited how she held contractors accountable for problems with the Big Dig project in Boston, when she took over as attorney general in January 2007.
Coakley also wants to curb skyrocketing credit-card interest rates she said are affecting even those consumers with solid credit ratings.
"The [Obama administration's] plan for a new federal consumer protection agency seems like a good idea," she added, "provided it has some teeth in it for enforcement."
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said Coakley is the kind of advocate Massachusetts needs in Congress, citing how she tackled the high electric rates that were driving away manufacturing jobs from Western Massachusetts.
"We all know in this room, she will continue to work on energy, education and health care reform," Downing said during a rally at the American Legion Post 68 in Pittsfield.
Downing was among several local political leaders who endorsed Coakley in her Berkshires campaign stop.
"Someone from Berkshire County in the U.S. Senate will be a great voice for us," said Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless.
During a brief speech to 50 supporters gathered at the Legion, Coakley voiced her opposition to escalating the war in Afghanistan.
"I don't envy President Obama making the decision about sending troops to Afghanistan," Coakley said. "But I don't want to send more troops over there."
As for national health care reform, Coakley said the primary goal of federal legislation should be to control costs and return to focusing on primary care for everyone.
"If we don't go after these costs and have competition to do that," Coakley told The Eagle, "no one will have good health care."
Furthermore, Coakley wants to make sure Berkshire County gets its fair share of goods and services -- especially to bolster the local economy.
"If we improve your telecommunications and broadband access, you'll have more of an opportunity to create high-tech jobs in the area," she said.
While Coakley is "humbled" by the thought of succeeding the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who spent nearly 50 years in the Senate, she understands the need to continue his legacy of having a visible staff and staying connected to all parts of the state.
The attorney general said she hopes Massachusetts voters realize she's the one who has "the strengths we want in our next U.S. Senator."
Coakley faces U.S. Rep. Michael E. Capuano from Somerville, Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen G. Pagliuca of Weston, and Alan A. Khazei, who lives in Brookline and founded the nonprofit group City Year.
The winner advances to the special general election Jan. 19 against the Republican primary victor -- either Scott D. Brown from Wrentham or Jack E. Robinson of Duxbury. All six candidates are vying to serve through 2012 via Kennedy's unexpired term.
Kennedy died Aug. 25 at the age of 77.