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Washington delegation asked to give to Coakley amid fund-raising woes

Senator Elizabeth Warren, left, and Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, left, and Attorney General Martha Coakley. (Steven Senne/Associated press)

The 11 members of the all-Democratic Massachusetts congressional delegation have been asked to pony up at least $25,000 each from their political funds for the party’s financially struggling gubernatorial nominee, Martha Coakley.

At least three of them have initially balked at the idea, however, exposing some of the problems Coakley faces in getting full support from the Democratic establishment as she and the party struggle to close a fund-raising gap with GOP rival Charlie Baker and the state Republican Party.

On Wednesday, the senior Democrat in the Massachusetts House delegation, Representative Richard E. Neal of Springfield, called his colleagues to a meeting with Coakley at the Capital Grille, a Boylston Street steak house, where six of the state’s members of Congress showed up to turn over checks made out to the Democratic State Committee.

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Representatives Stephen Lynch and William R. Keating did not attend, but are considering whether to contribute. Representative John F. Tierney, who lost his reelection bid in a bitter primary, is not expected to give.

The state’s two US senators, Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey, agreed this week to give $100,000 each from their campaign accounts to the state committee, said a senior party official.

The commitments by Warren and Markey and most of the representatives, which could add up to $350,000, will provide a much-needed boost for Coakley and the party in her race with Baker.

Baker, along with running mate Karyn Polito, raised just over $1 million in the final two weeks of September, leaving them after expenses with a balance of more than $1.5 million, the campaign said Wednesday.

Coakley and running mate Steve Kerrigan collected about $334,000 in that period. They now have just over $266,000 on hand, their campaign said.

But when it comes to state party accounts, the tallies are running about even, with combined federal and state accounts holding balances of more than $900,000.

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Asked about the delegation fund-raising push, the Coakley campaign expressed appreciation Wednesday, but downplayed the advantage Baker and the GOP have built up.

“It’s not surprising to see the special interests lining up to raise money for Charlie Baker,’’ said Coakley spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin. “Martha has said from the start that this campaign will be won on hard work and our ideas, not who raises the most money.”

In a brief interview before the Capital Grille meeting, Neal confirmed he had organized the congressional fund-raising on Coakley’s behalf, saying the delegation is committed to helping the party’s nominee, much as it has in previous elections.

“This is only similar to what was done in the past,’’ Neal said, referring to the history of how Massachusetts senators and representatives have contributed campaign cash to boost Democratic gubernatorial candidates, particularly those struggling financially after competitive primaries.

He referred to 2006, when US Senator Edward M. Kennedy organized a similar fund-raising drive for Deval Patrick, whose campaign accounts had run low after having battled two opponents in a Democratic primary. Patrick was facing Kerry Healey, then the lieutenant governor, who drew heavily on her own wealth to finance her campaign. She had no Republican primary opposition.

The Democratic party chairman at the time, Philip W. Johnston, said he recalled Kennedy raising about $200,000 from the delegation for the Patrick campaign. He said all 10 of the representatives then in office donated, along with Kennedy and John F. Kerry, then a US senator.

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Kennedy also organized an effort in 2002 for the Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee, Shannon O’Brien, who faced Mitt Romney, another candidate using his wealth to fund his candidacy. Like Patrick, O’Brien had spent most of her cash in a tough primary fight. Kennedy’s stature almost guaranteed that the lawmakers would contribute.

The Democratic State Committee must deposit the donations from the members of Congress into its federal account, which state campaign finance laws restrict from being directly used for state candidates. But the law dictates that the party can include Coakley in its ads and mailings for federal candidates. It can also use the funds to build party operations, pay salaries, and enhance grass-roots organizing for the entire ticket.

Keating is hesitant to donate the full $25,000 that was requested because he faces a Republican opponent, John Chapman, in next month’s election and says he must focus on that fight, say Democratic officials. By the end of August, Keating had $720,000 in his campaign account.

But he also has an active state political committee from his days as the Norfolk County district attorney that has about $360,000. The committee, whose funds cannot be spent on his congressional reelection, could be used for donations to the state party to help Coakley.

Lynch, of South Boston, said his hesitation is based in part on the fact that he depleted much of his existing campaign funds last year in his failed US Senate bid. His latest campaign finance report shows he has $275,000 remaining in his House account. He does not face a Republican opponent this year.

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But Lynch also acknowledged that his decision to make a donation will be influenced by district politics. Coakley had prosecuted two political figures, former state Representative Brian P. Wallace of South Boston and former state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill of Quincy.

Wallace and his allies in South Boston deeply resent the campaign finance charges Coakley brought against him. Her prosecution of Cahill on allegations that he used Massachusetts State Lottery advertising funds to boost his 2010 gubernatorial race kicked up resentment among the former treasurer’s allies in Quincy, which is in Lynch’s district.

“That doesn’t help,’’ Lynch said. “But it won’t be determinative of the level of any donation I make.’’

As it grapples with how best to approach the final weeks before Election Day, Coakley’s team has convened a meeting Thursday for about 20 Democratic strategists from outside the campaign.

Her advisers said the gathering does not represent concern over strategy. Instead, they said, they want to solicit outside opinions, cognizant that Coakley’s losing 2010 Senate campaign was roundly criticized for being too cloistered.

Campaign manager Tim Foley told the Globe the gathering would be “more of a check-in with folks we haven’t checked in with on a regular basis.”

Campaign strategist Doug Rubin recalled a similar meeting during Patrick’s 2010 reelection campaign.

But some of the people invited to the meeting said they expected to hear talking points designed to muffle intraparty criticism that could feed into the Baker campaign’s message that the Republican is luring away Democratic voters.

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One Democratic strategist invited to the meeting said, “It’s going to take Elizabeth Warren, Deval Patrick, and [Democratic nominee for attorney general] Maura Healey to drag her across the finish line, with a great [get-out-the-vote] effort, frankly.”

More gubernatorial race coverage:

Charlie Baker’s shifts give fodder to Democrats

Baker campaign’s financial edge over Coakley grows

For independents, it's a tough road to November

Inside Baker’s economic plan, Coakley’s education offer

More from Captital: The week in politics and issues


Frank Phillips can be reached at frank.phillips@globe.com.