Governor Deval Patrick seems more anxious to kick off next year's US Senate race in Massachusetts than some of the potential candidates, catching most off-guard yesterday when they found he had rattled off their names during an interview at the National Governors Association meetings in Washington.
Patrick told Jim O'Sullivan of the National Journal, a former reporter for the State House News Service in Boston, that four candidates had already chatted with him about a potential run, and he had traded calls with a fifth.
Then, breaching all manner of political protocol, he identified them: City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, who made a failed attempt for the Democratic nomination in last year's Senate special election; Newton Mayor Setti Warren, little more than a year in office; veteran Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll; and Democratic activist Robert Massie, a 1994 candidate for lieutenant governor.
Patrick also said Robert Pozen, a former executive at Fidelity Investments and MFS Investment Management, had reached out to him but they had failed to connect.
“My sense is that (Brown) is struggling a little bit to decide whether he’s going to work for the people of the commonwealth or work for the hard right,” Patrick said, previewing the Democrats' most likely line of attack against the man who left them thunderstruck when he won the seat held for nearly a half-century by a party icon, the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
In the aftermath of that race, the Democrats regrouped, helped Patrick win re-election last fall (albeit with less than 50 percent of the vote in what for all practical purposes was a three-way race), and repelled the GOP tide that swept the rest of the nation in the mid-term elections.
All 10 Massachusetts seats in the US House remained in Democratic hands, and local Democrats are feeling even more optimistic as they head toward 2012, when President Obama will be atop the ballot and Patrick is free to pile on against Brown and a potential GOP presidential nominee, former Governor Mitt Romney.
Brown himself is aware of the peril. He has already banked over $7 million in campaign cash and may spend up to $25 million to retain what initially proved to be a pivotal seat for his party: the 41st Senate vote to uphold a Republican filibuster, or the 60th vote the Democrats needed to ensure passage of any of their initiatives. Republicans gained Senate seats in the mid-terms but still remain a minority.
The senator has calibrated his votes with an eye toward maintaining hometown support and national viability, and he has been careful to cultivate national Republicans during his mid-term campaign appearances, as well as during the book tour to promote his autobiography, "Against All Odds." It took him as far away as Florida and the Reagan presidential library in California.
Against that backdrop, Massie has already announced a campaign, and Khazei, Warren, Driscoll, Pozen, and several sitting House members have been weighing challenges to Brown. That group includes Representatives Michael Capuano of Somerville and Stephen Lynch of South Boston.
Yet each has carefully demurred when asked about a campaign, including Lynch, who was repeatedly peppered on the point over the weekend at the outset of an interview with WCVB-TV's "OTR."
"I think that's just too far away at this point," Lynch said.
The program aired Sunday shortly before Patrick sat down with O'Sullivan and upended the conversation. When previously asked about potential Senate candidates, the governor had made two points: he would not be among them, but he would not reveal the names of those who had sought his counsel about a possible campaign.
That didn't stop him from lauding certain potential candidates, but he never spoke publicly for them. Now, whether he's floating trial balloons or trying to push fence-sitters, Patrick has changed tacks.
“Kim is not in; she has not made up her mind, but I know she’s thinking about it seriously. But Alan and Bob and Setti are in, for sure,” the governor told the National Journal.
As for Pozen, “I haven’t talked to Bob. We’ve traded phone calls, but I haven’t talked to him."
Warren upset a sitting state representative, Ruth Balser, to win the Newton mayor's race in November 2009. He was sworn in on Jan. 1, 2010, and has worked since then to cultivate the image of an engaged chief executive.
Asked earlier this month about Patrick including him in a list of potential Senate candidates, Warren told the Globe: "I consider the governor a friend, and I'm honored he thinks highly of me. But as I said before, I'm remaining focused on the issues that effect Newton."
Just two weeks later, after Patrick branded him a surefire candidate in a national publication, Warren was handed a live grenade.
“I am considering a run against Senator Brown,” the mayor said in a statement yesterday. "I have been disappointed by many of his votes, which I believe have hurt many cities and towns in Massachusetts, including my own community of Newton."
He said he had yet to make a final decision, "but in the final analysis, if I believe I can do a better job for Massachusetts, I’ll put my name on the ballot.”
Driscoll was similarly left scrambling.
She was out on the hustings last night, attending a fundraiser in Worcester and a women's event in Easthampton. Those are far from the Witch City, underscoring her possible interest in a Senate race, but Driscoll is also a deliberative politician and confessed she was not ready to commit to a race at least publicly.
“I’m looking at it. I’m trying to understand all the twists and turns. I’m trying to understand the potential impact on my family," she said in a phone call from the road.
Khazei was out at dinner and unavailable for comment.
Pozen was not immediately reachable.
Of the group, Khazei may have the broadest name recognition, thanks to his 2009 primary campaign. He also is an unabashed liberal who would almost certainly run from the left and be able to tap a national fundraising base.
Warren also represents a liberal city, but he has a conservative calling card: He served a year of duty in Iraq as an intelligence officer in the US Navy Reserve. Brown is a member of the Massachusetts National Guard, but he has never been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Like Patrick the first African American to hold his job, Warren previously served as an aide to the state's senior senator, John Kerry. He would have unimpeded access to the dossier Kerry and his staff are surely compiling against Brown.
Driscoll, meanwhile, is a second-term mayor who is experienced in community development. She also has been a leading voice for greater budgetary latitude from the state, particularly when it comes to reconfiguring public employee health insurance plans.
She is the first woman elected mayor of Salem, and could benefit in a statewide campaign as a lone female candidate. Yet as the mother of three, Driscoll expressed concern about how a campaign would affect her family.
"I have three young children, and I'm also trying to understand if I can run while also running a city," she said.
Pozen would offer his experience from the finance world, which includes a stint working for President George W. Bush on an aborted Social Security overhaul. He also worked in 2003 as Romney's secretary of economic affairs.
Massie is an Episcopal priest with a doctorate from Harvard Business School. Despite battling serious health problems for years, the Somerville resident announced his Senate candidacy in January.
Patrick has now pushed along the rest of the field.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.