Edward M. Kennedy Jr. applauds then-Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren during an election-eve stop in Dorchester last month.
Edward M. Kennedy Jr. applauds then-Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren during an election-eve stop in Dorchester last month.
Steven Senne/AP

Massachusetts has entered a period of name-dropping amid the possibility that Senator John F. Kerry will be tapped for secretary of state, and that Governor Deval Patrick will have to pick a replacement to hold the seat while a special election is held to determine a permanent successor.

Victoria Reggie Kennedy. Michael S. Dukakis. Ben Affleck. And, now, Edward M. Kennedy Jr. and Margaret Marshall.

Political observers can make a ready case for any of them as appointees or special election candidates, but it’s all very speculative now as Kerry awaits any nomination and Patrick continues to survey a changing political landscape.

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The governor wouldn’t get an appointment until Kerry formally resigns, and that would be unlikely before he was confirmed by the US Senate. That itself is unlikely before the first few weeks of January at the earliest.

Fueling the chatter in the interim, though, is the water-testing that a variety of candidates are undertaking, which pushes the theoretical toward the possible.

The Globe reported Monday that Representative Edward J. Markey was conducting a poll assessing his strength against Republican Senator Scott Brown, who lost his bid for reelection last month but has hinted he would seek the GOP nomination in any special election campaign.

Markey’s poll also contrasted the Malden Democrat with several colleagues who are contemplating runs and who would also be likely to conduct their own polls: Representatives Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch.

Capuano, a Somerville Democrat, was the only member of Congress to run in the 2009 primary to replace the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. He lost to Attorney General Martha Coakley, who went on to lose to Brown. When Brown sought a full, six-year Senate term this fall, he was knocked off by Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren.

Lynch, a Democrat from South Boston, is also rallying his union brethren for a potential run. A former ironworker, Lynch has counted on his conservative brand of politics and Southie base to distinguish him in any crowded primary field—and to bring home Reagan Democrats who voted for Brown in 2010 if they went head-to-head in the special election.

Vicki Kennedy, meanwhile, talked with Patrick about the temporary appointment, the Globe’s Frank Phillips reported last week. She expressed disinterest in participating in the special election but was silent on the possibility of accepting the temporary appointment.

The problems with that, however, are numerous.

First, Edward Kennedy’s seat was filled by his longtime adviser Paul G. Kirk Jr.; putting Vicki Kennedy in the seat for a second consecutive temporary appointment fuels Brown’s argument that Democrats treat Senate seats as if they were Kennedy property, rather than a public institution.

Secondly, the Kennedy family itself is divided over the prospect of a Senate campaign or appointment. Vicki Kennedy was Edward Kennedy’s soulmate and confidante, but there were tensions between her and the senator’s two sons, Edward Jr. and Patrick.

Appointing Vicki Kennedy risks fanning them.

The counter-argument is that Vicki Kennedy has the stature and deep relationships with senators to step into the role without any warm-up and immediately deliver for Massachusetts in the ways she watched her husband do daily.

That would make her less of a caretaker and more of an extension of Kerry and the late senator.

A Dukakis appointment, meanwhile, highlights another reported concern of the governor: maintaining some control over the appointee.

The last thing Patrick needs right now—amid turmoil at the state drug lab, the New England Compounding Center, and over the appointment of a highway safety director with a bad driving record—is a rogue senator who views his brief time in office as an opportunity to push a political agenda divergent from that of the Obama administration.

That would not only risk the state’s political interest, but the priorities of Patrick’s good friend, President Obama. The president would already be risking the seat by tapping Kerry to head the State Department, and the governor risks his ire by making the chances of holding it any longer than necessary.

Dukakis is nothing if not a loyal Democratic soldier, literally marching the streets precinct-by-precinct to register voters. But he also was a three-term governor and his party’s 1988 presidential nominee, and over time has developed his own strong political beliefs both in office and in the college classroom.

The governor could help draw the contrast with any Brown candidacy by appointing a woman of stature whose votes would highlight the value of a Democrat retaining the seat. Warren won her campaign against the senator, in part, by highlighting what she branded as anti-women votes cast by Brown during his nearly three years as a member of the Republican Senate caucus.

Marshall was chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court when it made Massachusetts the first state to legalize gay marriage. She is a liberal heroine imbued with a jurist’s prudence. While she stepped down to take care of her husband, former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, as he copes with Parkinson’s disease, Marshall continues to be a national speaker.

A Senate appointment would also take her away from home, but for a distinct period of no more than five months.

A special election campaign by Edward Kennedy Jr. would avoid any criticism that Patrick was trying to help the family by appointing a member to the Senate.

The younger Kennedy would have to go out and campaign for the seat, just as his relative, Joseph P. Kennedy III, just did with his recent US House campaign.

Edward Jr. could rely on his father’s legacy, but also highlight his own work with the disability community, as well as his private-sector experience heading a New York-based health care advisory firm.

One immediate challenge, though, is residency. Kennedy may spend time each summer at the family compound on Cape Cod, but he lives in Connecticut.

Massachusetts election law does not require US House members to live in their respective House districts, only that they be an “inhabitant” of the state when elected. The same is true for senators, who don’t represent geographical districts but the entire state. Candidates for both offices, however, have to be registered voters in the state to circulate nomination papers.

President John F. Kennedy famously maintained his voter registration at 122 Bowdoin St., an apartment building across from the State House, all the way until his assassination.

Edward Kennedy Jr. would have to make some sort of formal commitment to Massachusetts before voters made a formal commitment to him.

Ironically enough, Hillary Clinton—the person whose departure may clear the path for a special election campaign—did just the same sort of thing in New York before winning her own seat in the US Senate.