For the third time in as many years the citizens of Massachusetts will vote for a U.S. senator. The late liberal lion Ted Kennedy held his seat for 47 years. Since his passing in 2009 it has been held by three different people — Paul Kirk (D), who was appointed to serve as interim senator; Scott Brown, who won the January 2010 special election; and Elizabeth Warren, who defeated Brown in November.
The other senate seat has since 1985 been filled by the presumptive next secretary of state, John Kerry. With Kerry’s all-but-certain ascension to State, an interim senator will be selected by Governor Deval Patrick before a special election follows 145 to 160 days from the day the seat becomes vacant. Considerable rumors abound as to who will be appointed for the interim period, with Patrick determined to select someone who pledges not to run in the special election. Vicki Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, Barney Frank, and Kerry staffer Drew O’Brien have all been mentioned as interim options.
Thus far, one Democratic candidate, Congressman Ed Markey, has thrown his hat into the ring and declared his impending run. Already, Markey has garnered the support of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Vicki Kennedy, and has received supportive comments short of an endorsement from Kerry. Many Democrats are fearful of a primary fight weakening the eventual nominee.
Speculation on the Democratic side is that Congressman Stephen Lynch, Congressman Michael Capuano, State Senator Benjamin Downing, and Rabbi Jonah Pessner will potentially challenge Markey for the nomination. Patrick has stated that he does not intend to seek the seat. Capuano ran in the 2010 primary and lost to Attorney General Martha Coakley. Lynch is, by modern Massachusetts standards, a conservative Democrat. Downing joined the state senate in 2007, representing the largest senate district in the state. Pessner is senior vice president of the Union of Reform Judaism and has never sought office.
The state Republican Party is hopeful that former Brown decides to reclaim a place in Congress. Still smarting from his November defeat by Warren, Brown has been noncommittal though he’s alluded to a probable run. Were Brown to decide to pursue alternative ventures, such as a 2014 gubernatorial run, a possible republican candidate would be popular former governor William Weld, who recently returned to Massachusetts after a long sojourn to New York. Weld’s brand of New England liberal Republicanism, once the standard of the party, was well-received during his nearly two-term tenure. In 1996 he challenged Kerry for his senate seat in a campaign that received considerable national attention. Weld ran for governor of New York in 2006, attempting to join Sam Houston as the only person to serve as governor of two states. Weld lost the primary to a more conservative opponent.
With open senate seats a rare occurrence, it is likely that more names will be dropped and some fresh faces may give it the old college try. Although, were Brown to declare as many if not most expect, it is unlikely that he would be challenged for the republican nomination by anyone but an upstart neophyte. The democratic nomination is still anyone’s guess if any of the proposed candidates join the race. Markey has been in Congress since 1976. Yet, outside his district, like most congressmen, he’s a relative unknown. A special election promises a smaller, less-liberal turnout, a la 2010. This could benefit a more conservative Democrat such as Stephen Lynch, or a long-shot who may surprise with a splendid race in a compressed campaign. The early bets would have to go in Brown’s favor with his still high popularity, name-recognition, campaign apparatus, prior experience, and the special election factors. Regardless of who runs it will mark another chapter in Massachusetts’ storied political history, and may yet offer some unexpected fireworks or footnotes.