BOSTON — The relatively quiet campaign to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy's Senate seat was matched by equally light turnout Tuesday as voters picked two state politicians to face off in next month's general election.
Attorney General Martha Coakley won a four-way race for the Democratic nomination, while state Sen. Scott Brown bested a perennial candidate to win the Republican nomination.
Coakley's win was her first step toward becoming the first female senator from Massachusetts, a state otherwise known for its liberal political tradition.
Brown, who has carved out a decidedly conservative record, faces an uphill challenge in a state where the majority of voters are independents but frequently vote Democratic.
Election officials said turnout in Boston – a city bearing the Kennedy family image and name throughout – was a meager 10 percent, with similar turnout in most other cities.
Brown is a veteran legislator and lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard who's also gained local notoriety as a former Cosmopolitan centerfold model and the father of an "American Idol" contestant. He earned 78 percent of the vote, with 1,543 of 2,168 precincts reporting.
Coakley earned 47 percent of the vote, ahead of Rep. Michael Capuano with 28 percent, City Year co-founder Alan Khazei with 13 percent and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca – who spent millions of his own money on the campaign – with 12 percent.
Kennedy's widow, Vicki, called each of the Democrats early Tuesday to wish them well, an aide said. His family had been careful not to endorse any one candidate.
One the bluest of Democratic states, Massachusetts has a Democratic governor, an all Democratic congressional delegation, Democratic majorities in both legislative branches and a straight Democratic lineup through its six constitutional offices.
Kennedy, who died Aug. 25 of brain cancer, held his seat for nearly 47 years and became a liberal Democratic icon despite a string of personal foibles that dashed a 1980 campaign for the presidency.
His seat has been held on an interim basis by Paul G. Kirk Jr., a former Democratic National Committee chairman, until it is fill permanently on Jan. 19.
The election was the first time since 1984 that Massachusetts residents voted in a U.S. Senate race with no incumbent. It also was the first statewide special election since 2004, when the Legislature replaced the governor's power to fill congressional vacancies with a special election process.
Coakley, 56, 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."
While Coakley opposes sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Brown supports President Barack Obama's buildup.
Political analysts described the election as something of a letdown after the long careers of Kennedy and his junior colleague, Sen. John Kerry, had left many aspiring politicians relegated to their current offices.
Kennedy's widow, Vicki, decided against running, saying she could not compete with her late husband's legacy. His nephew, former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, eschewed a race because he felt he could be more effective running his nonprofit energy assistance company.
While the state's incumbent congressmen did not have to risk giving up their own seats in the special election, one by one they decided against a campaign. Most concluded privately that Coakley could not be beat amid a field of multiple men.