Democrats almost had their own Bain Capital candidate

September 5, 2012, 10:04 PM UTC

FORTUNE — Elizabeth Warren gets her prime-time closeup tonight in Charlotte, as Democrats hope some extra exposure could help them recapture the U.S. Senate seat they lost to Scott Brown (R-MA) after Ted Kennedy passed away. She is largely viewed as the antithesis of Mitt Romney, a godmother to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

But things could have been very, very different.

Among those who vied to succeed Kennedy was Steve Pagliuca, a managing director with Bain Capital since 1989. Before that he had been a management consultant with Bain & Company, where he helped establish the firm’s business turnaround practice. And, yes, he attended Harvard Business School.

Sounds a lot like Mitt Romney, except that Pagliuca was running as a Democrat. He was one of four candidates in a primary that also included Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley, Congressman Mike Capuano and social entrepreneur Alan Khazei.

It didn’t go terribly well.

Socially liberal and fiscally moderate, Pagliuca told voters that his business background — which also included an ownership stake in the Boston Celtics basketball franchise — meant that he would understand how to help create jobs. He also pledged to be a solid 60th vote on Obamacare. Reasonable positions for the primary, but Pagliuca stumbled in the debate and was never able to create a ground-game that could compete with more established pols like Coakley and Capuano. He ultimately finished last, with just 12% of the vote.

Of course, the winner of that primary — Martha Coakley — was a lazy candidate who was rarely seen in public until the campaign’s final days (when the polls turned against her). She also made some inexplicable errors about the local sports scene (i.e., calling Curt Schilling “a Yankees fan”) that ultimately helped Scott Brown go to Washington.

I’m not saying that Pagliuca would have necessarily beaten Brown in the general, but just imagine if he had. Imagine if a Bain Capital executive had become heir to the Kennedy seat. Imagine if the Obama campaign would have had to figure out how to attack Romney’s business experience without simultaneously decapitating their Senate candidate? Imagine Elizabeth Warren prowling radio row, waiting for someone to offer her a chair.

Just saying that this week in Charlotte could have gone in a much different direction.

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