For 60 years the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy championed many liberal causes, from immigration reform to civil rights, but he regarded national health care reform as the cause of his life. After his death in August, many Democrats adopted the slogan “Win one for Teddy,” to revise their party’s flagging efforts for national health care reform.

During a candidate forum Saturday morning at the Howes House in West Tisbury, representatives for three of the four Democratic candidates seeking to replace Mr. Kennedy said they will make health reform a top priority if they are elected to fill his seat.

All the candidates were asked to fill out a questionnaire that began with the question: “As a possible successor to Ted Kennedy, who became an institution in his long tenure in the Senate as well as the personification of liberalism, briefly outline which domestic public policy areas you agree and disagree with.”

Three of the candidates (Steve Pagliuca was not represented), speaking through their representatives, said they strongly support health care reform, a woman’s right to choose, the repeal of the defense of marriage act that defines marriage as a legal union exclusively between one man and one woman, and the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

Bill Stafursky, representing Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, said Ms. Coakley does not support a single payer option, but does support a strong public option. She is also opposed to an opt-out for individual states, he said.

Ms. Coakley believes that national health care reform could be modeled in part on the Massachusetts health care reform measures, that among requires all residents to have health insurance and provides a government-subsidized health care option.

“She knows how to best build on the successes we’ve had in Massachusetts and focus on accomplishing three key goals. Martha believes we must expand coverage, improve quality and reduce costs,” Mr. Stafursky said.

Tom Dresser, representing candidate Alan Khazei, said Mr. Khazei also does not support a single payer system, but does support a universal mandate for health insurance, He also supports a strong public option, but opposes an opt-out for states.

Mr. Khazei also supports stringent cost control measures for health care, Mr. Dresser said.

“We have not paid enough attention to cost control measures in the current health care debate,” Mr. Dresser said, reading from the questionnaire filled out by Mr. Khazei’s campaign. “In addition to supporting a robust public option to drive down costs, I would establish an independent Health Care Quality Council that would collect and disseminate information on the best practices to make sure that we are getting as much value as possible for our health care dollars.”

The person with the most political experience on Saturday was former Cape and Islands Rep. Eric T. Turkington, who appeared on behalf of candidate Mike Capuano. Unlike his opponents, Mr. Capuano does support a single payer system. Mr. Turkington noted there was no provision for a single payer system in the Affordable Health Care for America Act that recently passed the house by a narrow margin.

“The votes aren’t there for a single payer option, so it’s sort of moot now.”

Moderator Paddy Moore pointedly asked how each candidate differs from one another. Mr. Turkington noted that Mr. Capuano, a Massachusetts member of the U.S. House of Representatives, voted for the current health care reform package as written, which includes the controversial Stupak amendment that prohibits federal funds from being used to cover the costs of an abortion.

He said Mr. Capuano does not support the amendment, but voted for it because the amendment will likely be removed before Senate approval.

“Sometimes there are amendments in both houses that are put in there because it is understood they will not be in the final bill . . . they are put in just to garner enough votes to get the package through that particular house at that particular time. I am confident that if he thought that was going to be in the final bill this would be a whole different scenario,” he said.

Margaret Stafursky, an Oak Bluffs resident and supporter of Ms. Coakley, disagreed with the logic.

“[Mr. Capuano] is saying he was waiting for the Senate to clean up what the House was unable to do . . . it seems Martha [Coakley] went another step because she is saying it should have never gotten to this point because you don’t hang the women out to dry,” she said.

Mr. Dresser said Mr. Khazei was passionate about health care reform. He noted that Mr. Khazei was the founder of City Year, a nonprofit public service organization for young people. Mr. Dresser said health care reform fits squarely into Mr. Khazei’s philanthropic goals.

“As the son of immigrants, who were a doctor and a nurse, I know [Mr. Khazei] will be passionate about moving the health reform movement forward . . . we grew up with Peace Corps, and now we have AmeriCorps, and Mr. Khazei was a big part of making that happen,” he said.

The one issue where all three candidates part ways with the late Sen. Kennedy is Cape Wind, the $900 million proposed offshore wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound that, if approved, would become one of the first offshore wind energy projects in the United States.

Mr. Dresser said Mr. Khazei strongly supports Cape Wind.

Mr. Dresser and Mr. Turkington shared a laugh, because like the late Sen. Kennedy they personally do not support the project, although the candidates they represent do.

Mr. Turkington said Mr. Capuano has a history of working well with others.

“He’s been in the [House of Representatives] for ten years, and ten years is not a long period of time; Kennedy went for 47 years, which was extraordinary. The fact that in that relatively short span he is already one of Nancy Pelosi’s most trusted leadership people after only 10 years speak volumes about his ability to play well with others,” he said.

Mr. Stafursky said despite some misconceptions, Ms. Coakley is also adept at consensus-building.

“Martha comes across as someone who is very staid and has to go by the book all the time. People see her on television and they say she has no personality . . . but she is very outgoing, charismatic, and understands how to work both sides . . . she is a great advocate of coming to a solution that’s not just hers,” he said.

The primary for the special election is Tuesday, Dec. 8; the election is Tuesday, Jan. 19.