BOSTON (AP) — For much of her campaign, Martha Coakley steered clear of the Kennedy mystique, methodically crafting a low-key campaign to fill the late Edward Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat the way the seasoned prosecutor would build a case in court.
But with the wheels threatening to come off the campaign and a double-digit lead eroding to a dead heat in the polls, Coakley, the state's attorney general, is banking that a deep-seated loyalty to Kennedy among Massachusetts Democrats will be enough to propel her to victory.
Coakley has publicly accepted the endorsement of Kennedy's widow, Vicki Kennedy, and nephew, the former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy. Vicki Kennedy has also made a fundraising appeal and cut a television ad on Coakley's behalf.
Some Democrats are worried Coakley has been too methodical in the six-week sprint to Tuesday's special election.
Once thought to have a lock on the seat in a state that last elected a Republican to the Senate in 1972, Coakley is suddenly fending off a strong challenge from GOP state Sen. Scott Brown in what's turning out to be her hardest-fought campaign.
Coakley, hoping to become the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, said she always expected a tough election.
"Scott's come after me. I'm going to respond and voters will choose," Coakley said after a recent debate. "I'm not going to let anyone distort my record."
Coakley said she's been working hard since wrapping up a decisive win in a four-way primary, claiming 47 percent of the vote. She said she's bringing the same passion to the campaign that she's put into her work.
It's a drive she said she learned early on, growing up one of five children in western Massachusetts and pursuing a legal career at a time when women still faced significant hurdles.
She went to nearby Williams College, graduating cum laude in 1975. In 1979, she received her law degree from Boston University. Coakley began her career in civil litigation at two Boston law firms before joining the Middlesex District Attorney's office in 1986.
After working for the U.S. Justice Department in its Boston Organized Crime Strike Force, she returned to the DA's office and became head of its child abuse prosecution unit in 1991.
In 1998, she was elected district attorney in Middlesex County. She made her first statewide run in 2006 and became the first woman elected attorney general.
The race to fill Kennedy's seat is the culmination of a decade's long quest for Coakley, 56, who grabbed the public's attention with the high-profile prosecution of Louise Woodward, a British nanny charged with shaking to death a Newton couple's infant son in 1997.
Perhaps Coakley's biggest case as attorney general was her handling of a fatal 2006 tunnel ceiling collapse in the newly opened Big Dig.
The incident gave a focal point to public outrage over the massive project's delays and soaring costs, but instead of pursuing jail terms, Coakley reached a settlement with the project's top contractor.
Coakley blamed weak state liability laws, noting she won nearly $500 million.
NAME: Martha Coakley
EDUCATION: B.A. from Williams College, 1975, J.D. degree from Boston University Law School, 1979
CAREER: Attorney, Parker, Coulter, Daley & White, 1979-1980; attorney, Goodwin Proctor LLP, 1980-1986; assistant district attorney, Middlesex District Attorney's office 1986-1987 and 1989-1997. special attorney, Boston Organized Crime Strike Force, 1987-1989; Middlesex District Attorney, 1999-2007; president, Massachusetts District Attorney's Association, 2001; Attorney General of Massachusetts, 2007-present; served as president of Women's Bar Association of Massachusetts, and on board of directors of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
FAMILY: Lives in Medford with her husband, Thomas F. O'Connor, Jr.