Jockeying Picks Up for Potential Mass. Senate Race

Jockeying Picks Up for Potential Mass. Senate Race

By Scott Conroy - December 20, 2012

After several news organizations reported that President Obama has settled on nominating Sen. John Kerry to be the next secretary of state, the unofficially declared race to succeed the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee has begun to intensify.

If Obama does call on him to take Hillary Clinton’s place as the nation’s top-ranking Cabinet official, Kerry would have to resign his Senate seat after what would likely be a relatively smooth confirmation process.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick would then appoint an interim senator before a special election is called to determine who would retain the seat until 2014.

By state law, that election must be held within 145 to 160 days of the exiting lawmaker’s resignation.

Outgoing Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown is widely expected to attempt to reclaim the perch he ascended to after winning another special election in 2010. Having lost his re-election bid last month to Elizabeth Warren, Brown took a public step toward rebranding himself Wednesday: He reversed a previously stated position and came out in favor of a federal assault-weapons ban in the aftermath of last week’s shooting massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

“As a state legislator in Massachusetts, I supported an assault-weapons ban thinking other states would follow suit,” Brown said in an interview with the Springfield Republican. “But unfortunately, they have not, and innocent people are being killed. As a result, I support a federal assault-weapons ban, perhaps like the legislation we have in Massachusetts.”

Though Brown would be the clear Republican front-runner to vie for the chance to succeed Kerry, there is no shortage of prominent Democrats who have been mentioned as possible interim replacements, including the wife of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, Vicki Kennedy; former governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis; and even Hollywood actor Ben Affleck.

Dukakis earlier this week called the chances of his own appointment “highly unlikely,” while Affleck has refused to comment on the possibility that he might seek political office.

As for Vicki Kennedy, she is considered by many state politicos to be the front-runner if Patrick decides to appoint a “caretaker,” who would serve in the Senate for the interim period but would not run in the special election, expected to take place in late spring or early summer. But her interest in the role remains an open question.

Ted Kennedy Jr. -- the Connecticut-based son of the famed Senate icon, who died in 2009 after 47 years in office -- has had his name floated by friends as a possible contender, but his status as an out-of-state resident and political outsider may limit his chances, according to knowledgeable sources in Massachusetts.

“When I heard his name, I thought, ‘Well, he might be interested in the interim job, so a Kennedy can hold the seat briefly,’ ” said state Democratic strategist Dan Payne. “But I don’t know that he would run to fill out John Kerry’s term because this is a very short period of time until there will be a special election -- five or six months -- and while he has some name-recognition advantages, he wouldn’t have a political apparatus, and he might not be welcomed by other Democrats who feel you should have to labor in the Massachusetts vineyard in order to run for this job. So I think it’s pretty unlikely.”

Three eastern Massachusetts House Democrats have been most frequently discussed as possibilities to replace Kerry: 5th District Rep. Ed Markey, 8th District Rep. Mike Capuano and 9th District Rep. Stephen Lynch.

The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that state Sen. Benjamin Downing -- who hails from the less populated far-western portion of the state -- raised the possibility that he might be able to compete seriously in a crowded Democratic primary.

Lynch’s allies have made a similar argument that the South Boston native could find a niche among relatively conservative Democratic voters in a primary that would be dominated by outspoken progressives. For his part, Capuano ran unsuccessfully in the 2009 special election primary to succeed Kennedy.

Markey has widely been considered the favorite in a special election scenario -- despite his relatively low statewide name recognition -- in part because of his proven fundraising prowess.

Whichever Democrat emerges as the nominee likely would pose a formidable challenge to Brown, despite the Republican’s relatively high popularity among voters and proven ability to win a hard-fought statewide race.

“Dems are not awed by Scott Brown,” Massachusetts GOP strategist Todd Domke said in an email message, citing in part the newcomer’s faded glow since claiming victory in 2010. “To beat a strong Dem, he needs to define in a more compelling way how he'd return as a bipartisan independent.” 

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

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