Political Intelligence

In lauding possibility of John Kerry as secretary of state, Scott Brown highlights fallback plan

Senator Scott Brown makes a point during his debate Monday against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.
Senator Scott Brown makes a point during his debate Monday against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.Credit: Matt Stone/Pool

LOWELL—Senator Scott Brown thinks John Kerry would be a good secretary of state, yet that’s not a completely disinterested observation between two Senate colleagues.

It highlights a potential fallback plan for Brown should he lose his reelection campaign against Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Brown could conceivably replace Kerry in the Senate if he becomes the nation’s chief diplomat.

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“I’ve already told him that quite a few times,” Brown said when asked, during a rapid-fire segment near the end of his debate with Warren on Monday, whether Kerry would make a good secretary of state.

“I think that he has a very good knowledge of world affairs, he’s a real leader on that issue,” added Brown. “And I looked to his guidance when we were doing the START Treaty, and when we’re dealing with foreign issues. Yes, I think he would.”

The logic to the state’s junior senator, a Republican, replacing its senior senator, a Democrat, is circuitous but not implausible.

Warren would most likely beat Brown next month if she benefitted from the coattails of President Obama. Her fellow Democrat enjoys a significant polling advantage over Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, even though the Republican presidential nominee is a former governor of the state.

While winning Massachusetts would certainly not guarantee Obama’s chance of being reelected nationally, it could follow a trend that already has him leading Romney in key battleground states across the country.

If Obama were reelected, he would have to find a new secretary of state, since Hillary Rodham Clinton has already declared she will not serve a second term.

Kerry has issued disclaimers akin to those he gave before announcing his candidacy for the presidency in 2004: His only interest at the time is doing his current job. Yet there is strong logic to bolster Kerry’s selection as secretary of state.

The Vietnam War veteran is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been an unofficial Obama administration envoy to world hotspots, and also has formed a close personal connection to the president during the past eight years.

Kerry helped propel Obama onto the national political scene by tapping the then-Illinois state senator to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where he himself was nominated for president.

This year, Kerry has not only been an Obama surrogate speaker, but the president chose him to deliver the major national security speech of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. And Kerry has been huddling with Obama the past three days in Nevada, playing the role of Romney as the president preps for his debate against the Republican nominee on Wednesday.

Were Obama to tap Kerry for secretary of state, it would trigger a chain-reaction in Massachusetts.

Governor Deval Patrick would appoint a temporary replacement, and the state would have to hold a special election to fill the seat within 145 days to 160 days of the vacancy.

If Clinton remained as secretary of state until Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, 2013, and Kerry resigned to succeed her, the special election to replace him would have to be held between June 13 and June 28, 2013.

Clinton herself resigned as senator to become secretary on Inauguration Day 2009.

If Warren were to be elected, she would be sworn into the Senate on Jan. 3, 2013, the start of the 113th Congress.

With Kerry still in place, Warren would be the state’s new junior senator for a little over two weeks. Then, with Kerry’s resignation, Warren would become the state’s new senior senator, with Patrick’s temporary appointee filling the void as junior senator for about five months.

When Democrat Edward M. Kennedy died in 2009, Patrick pledged not to appoint someone to replace the late senator who planned to run in the special election to succeed him. That said, there is nothing in the state’s congressional succession law requiring the governor to do that again.

His appointee could gain a significant advantage in name identity and fund-raising with a head start in the race.

Conversely, there is nothing to prevent Brown—fresh off what would likely be a close loss to Warren, and with his own 100-percent name ID locally and national fund-raising base—from turning around and running again for the Senate.

Yet were he to do that and win, he would take office as junior senator to Warren, even though Brown would return as a veteran of the chamber.

Seniority in the Senate is based on continuous service.

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