When Massachusetts Democrats go to the polls today to nominate a replacement for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, Martha Coakley, the state attorney general who is promising to pressure Wall Street for reforms, is expected to come out on top.
"When Wall Street melted down, people in Massachusetts got burned," says Coakley in one of her television ads. "The big banks and scam artists that got us into this mess have got to be held accountable."
During her tenure as attorney general, Coakley has confronted Wall Street banks for their role in the mortgage crisis. Earlier this year, Coakley reached an agreement requiring Goldman Sachs to pay $60 million to settle subprime lending claims brought by her office.
The settlement was called "historic" by financial observers because it was the first settlement with a major investment bank over subprime mortgages.
Overall, Coakley has recovered over $135 million from Wall Street for taxpayers and consumers.
If elected to the Senate, Coakley is promising to work for loan modifications when appropriate, so her constituents can hold onto their homes. She is also promising to support enhanced regulation of mortgage products and disclosure laws so that the homeowners can better understand their mortgage terms.
Special elections are notoriously difficult to poll because it is hard to predict who will turn out to vote. Massachusetts has never had a statewide special election before and its top election official recently predicted that voter turnout could be as low as 300,000 to 500,000.
Coakley is seen as the favorite, however, because the most recent, methodologically sound public poll showed her with a 21-point lead over her closest rival.
According to the Boston Globe-University of New Hampshire poll released Nov. 18, Coakley had 43 percent support among likely Democratic voters, Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., had 22 percent, Stephen Pagliuca, a co-owner of the Boston Celtics, had 15 percent, and Alan Khazei, a co-founder of City Year, a program which became the model for AmeriCorps, had 6 percent. Thirteen percent of Massachusetts Democrats said they were unsure.
Republicans are also holding a primary on Tuesday between state Sen. Scott Brown and lawyer Jack Robinson.
A special general election between the Democratic and Republican nominee will be held on Jan. 19.
All eyes are on the Democratic contest, however, because the state's liberal tilt will make the Democratic nominee a big favorite to win next month's showdown.
If Coakley goes on to win today's Democratic primary, analysts think that she will have done so with the help of an early start, a statewide base, and her status as the only woman in the race.
Coakley, who would be the first woman elected to the US Senate from Massachusetts, underscored her gender during a recent debate.
Under fire from Pagliuca, one of her Democratic rivals, for saying that she would have opposed the House-passed health-care bill because of the abortion restrictions it included, Coakley suggested that she understood the issue in a way that the Celtics co-owner couldn't.
"Steve," said Coakley, "it's personal with me, and it's personal with every woman who's in this, who's watching this."