Will Scott Brown's Senate Departure Prove Brief?

Will Scott Brown's Senate Departure Prove Brief?

By Scott Conroy - November 29, 2012

With just four words in his Election Night concession speech, outgoing Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown left little doubt about his intention to remain active in politics.

“Defeat is only temporary,” he said.

As Brown well knew that night at Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel, his opportunity to regain a U.S. Senate seat could come in a matter of months rather than years.

With Sen. John Kerry widely believed to be under consideration for a Cabinet post, the Bay State may be compelled in 2013 to hold its second special election to fill a vacated Senate seat in three years.

If Kerry does join the Obama administration, state law calls for Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint an interim senator to serve until a special election is held between 145 and 160 days of the seat being vacated.

Brown has not publicly said whether he would seek a return to the upper chamber, but close observers of Massachusetts politics have few doubts that the politically gifted, charismatic, and generally popular Republican would strongly consider a bid to duplicate his special election victory in 2010, when he claimed the seat long held by Ted Kennedy.

“From what I hear from people who’ve talked to Brown and are close to him, he definitely has interest in the special, if it happens,” said a Massachusetts Republican strategist. “But he hasn’t made up his mind that if it happens, he’s definitely going to run. He’s waiting to see where the appointment process goes, and then he’ll decide.”

Brown’s long-term prospects may have suffered somewhat from the relentless volley of character-driven charges he leveled against Elizabeth Warren; that assault centered on Warren’s claimed Native American heritage -- a highly charged issue.

Though he lost to Warren by eight points, exit polls showed Brown’s favorability rating among voters at 60 percent -- four points above that of the incoming senator (though down from Brown’s previous high).

In a state with a short Republican bench, Brown likely would face significant pressure from within his party to jump back into the fray, considering his proven ability to win a hotly contested race in a non-presidential election year.

In his two statewide races, Brown has proven spirited on the stump and is known to enjoy campaigning.

But if he were to run in and win a special election, he would then face the exhausting prospect of a fourth campaign in five years when Kerry’s seat is up in 2014.

Brown may instead have his eye on the 2014 gubernatorial race in a heavily Democratic state that nonetheless elected four successive Republican governors in the 16 years between Michael Dukakis’ term and Patrick’s.

Or perhaps the former state legislator and practicing attorney will want to pursue more lucrative opportunities in the private sector.

Unlike on the Republican side, the list of potential Democratic contenders for a Senate special election is long and includes several sitting congressmen who would have to face-off in a contested primary six weeks before the general.

State Democrats acknowledge privately that Brown would be a strong competitor, but emphasize that no one will underestimate that strength this time around.

"Massachusetts Democrats fell asleep at the switch when Scott Brown ran for U.S. Senate in 2010, but that won't happen again,” said Kevin Franck, the communications director for the Massachusetts Democratic Party. “Leading up to the 2012 election, we organized an unprecedented grassroots coordinated campaign, and the energy, enthusiasm and structure that fueled our ground game is still in place.”

Adding to the uncertainty over Brown’s intentions is the murky situation in Washington over the two key Cabinet posts.

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has been rumored to be President Obama’s first choice for secretary of state, but the continued resistance to her appointment among key Senate Republicans suggests that Kerry remains a viable alternative to replace Hillary Clinton.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that he does not plan to leave his post in the immediate future, though he has previously made clear that he does not intend to stay on through Obama’s second term.

If Kerry holds onto his Senate seat until the spring before accepting a new position at State or Defense, the special election to replace him could take place just about a year before the 2014 election for a full, six-year term. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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