BOSTON — When Martha Coakley graduated from law school, her father gave her a plaque that read "sometimes the best man for the job is a woman." She's spent the past several decades trying to prove him right.
The North Adams native, who grew up reading Nancy Drew novels and watching Perry Mason, became the first woman elected Middlesex District Attorney and the first elected Massachusetts Attorney General.
Although she lost her bid to become the state's first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, Coakley is hoping to be the first woman elected Massachusetts governor. But she faces a series of hurdles, including winning the Democratic nomination in a five-way contest.
"They know I'm working hard. They've seen that I'm out all the time. I'm enthusiastic. I'm energetic about it, because I am. Voters sense that," she told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
Another challenge for Coakley, 60, is persuading voters she's bounced back from her loss to Republican Scott Brown in the 2010 special election to fill the late Edward Kennedy's Senate seat.
Coakley began that rebuilding effort immediately, launching a successful re-election bid to win a second term as attorney general.
"I'm not blaming anybody for it. I've owned it. But I think people forget it was a very different circumstance and the time was different," she said. "I got back out as AG in that very tough, hostile atmosphere and convinced people that I should win again."
Coakley is portraying herself as tough-minded Democrat who wasn't afraid to go after Wall Street during the mortgage crisis, fight the federal Defense of Marriage Act on behalf of married gay couples in Massachusetts, and defend the state's abortion clinic "buffer zone" law in a U.S. Supreme Court challenge.
She's also adopted a pro-business stance, saying the state needs to promote competition and end duplicative regulations.
"We should be a state that rolls out a red carpet to business," she said.
Another hurdle Coakley faces is the "curse" of the attorney general's office in Massachusetts. Since 1958, five former Massachusetts attorneys general have sought the governor's office. All five failed.
One reason is that attorneys general often get pulled into politically dicey issues that can come back to haunt them.
That has been true of Coakley. Republican challenger Charlie Baker has faulted her for defending the state in a lawsuit with a children's rights group over the state's foster care system.
Coakley has defended her handling of the case and pointed to her proposal to create a child protection division within the Department of Children and Families.
She's also backed Gov. Deval Patrick's request for an outside review of the troubled agency after social workers lost track of a 5-year-old boy who is now feared dead, even as she forecast its finding.
"I can tell you what the audit will say — the caseloads are too big, you have people who aren't trained or supervised enough and when that happens, stuff like this happens," she said. "It's not good."
Coakley has also worked to end mental health stigmas, pointing to her younger brother, Edward, who she described as a "a brilliant student" and accomplished pianist. At 17, he started showing signs of depression and bipolar disorder, but refused treatment, worrying he wouldn't be able to get a job.
"He did not get better, he got worse. He could not hold a job. He could not hold onto relationships," Coakley said at a recent forum. "After my parents died, over 18 years ago, he committed suicide. I think in 2014 that no family should go through that."