Political Intelligence

In Massachusetts, scramble to replace Kerry in the Senate begins in earnest

Senator John F. Kerry’s nomination to become secretary of state sets off a flood of political activity in Massachusetts, as numerous politicians consider a run for his seat.

State law requires Governor Deval Patrick to appoint a temporary successor, once Kerry is confirmed by the Senate, as is expected to happen several weeks from now. An election would then be held between 145 days and 160 days after that.

Senator Scott Brown, the Republican who lost an election last month to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, is the most prominent person believed to be interested in running. He has hinted strongly that he would like to return to the Senate. His Senate spokeswoman said today that he had no comment. Brown’s father died Thursday and the senator said on Twitter that he was returning to Massachusetts to tend to his funeral arrangements. Brown’s manager from his recent campaign, Jim Barnett, also had no comment.

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If Brown decides against a run, former governor William F. Weld could emerge. He has said he is unlikely to run, but has not ruled it out.

The Democratic field is more wide open. Several members of the House delegation have expressed strong interest, including Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston, Michael E. Capuano of Somerville, and Edward J. Markey of Malden. A close political advisor to Capuano said the congressman had not made up his mind as of Thursday and did not expect a quick decision as he evaluates the contours of the race. The advisor said he expects all the candidates are now looking at the field to determine the dynamics of a potential primary.

A Capuano spokesman said in an email that the Somerville Democrat “is looking forward to spending the holidays with his family and talking with them about his future.”

One member of the House delegation said in an interview last Friday that he will definitely not throw his hat into the ring. “I’d rather stick needles in my eyeballs right now,” Representative James McGovern, the Worcester Democrat, said, citing his family and his position on the powerful House Rules Committee.

State Senator Benjamin B, Downing of Pittsfield was the first potential candidate to comment following this afternoon’s announcement. Minutes after Kerry and President Obama walked away from their news conference, Downing issued a statement through veteran campaign consultant, Scott Ferson. “While there will be no vacancy until Senator Kerry is confirmed, in the next few weeks I will be meeting with people throughout the Commonwealth as I consider a run for Senate,” he wrote.

Others mentioned included Vicki Kennedy, Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s widow, and Edward Kennedy Jr., the late senator’s son, who lives in Connecticut. But because there is no clear front-runner, others may emerge. Even Ben Affleck, the Hollywood actor, has been floated.

“Well, one never knows,” Affleck, who is originally from Cambridge, said in an interview on “Face the Nation” that will be broadcast on Sunday. “But I’m not going to get into speculation about my political future. I like to be involved, right now I’m really happy being involved from the outside in government.”

Philip W. Johnston, a former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, confirmed that Kennedy Jr. is interested in running for the seat. “He’s looking at it,” Johnston said. Kennedy Jr. did not return messages or e-mails. Vicki Kennedy, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on her interest.

US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz declined an interview, but her spokeswoman said she is not intending to run, a statement that leaves some wiggle room.

“She has no plans to run for US Senate,” said Christina DiIorio-Sterling. “She thoroughly enjoys her job and … intends to fulfill her commitment.”

Potential interim senators include Vicki Kennedy, former governor Michael S. Dukakis, and retiring US Represenative Barney Frank. One person whose name was floated as a potential interim replacement, Margaret H. Marshall, the former chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, was not immediately available today. But her husband, former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, laughed uproariously when called by a reporter.

“Oh, my God,” he said, casting doubt on her interest.

Patrick said he would not announce an interim appointee to the Senate until after Kerry is confirmed by the Senate. But he said he had a “mental list” of potential apointees and had fielded a number of inquiries from people interested in the job. Asked if he was considering a Kennedy for the interim appointment, Patrick said: “Maybe.”

Patrick said that, in general, he is looking for someone interested in advocating for Massachusetts research and innovation and protecting the state’s federal funding. He said that person does not necessarily need to know his or her way around Washington.

“I’m looking for a partner,” Patrick said.

The governor reiterated that he wants that interim appointee to agree not to run for the Senate, since he said it would be too difficult for that person to juggle his or her official duties while also raising money for and campaining in a short special election.

Patrick said Democrats would then have to fight to keep the seat in a potential rematch with Brown. “If he runs, he will be a competitive candidate,” the governor said. “He’s a really good campaigner. But he is, as we have seen, not invincible.”

Patrick said he would support changing the law to allow him to appoint an interim appointment who would serve out the remainder of Kerry’s term, until January 2015. But, as he has in the past, he downplayed the possibility of that happening.

“I’m not going to make that proposal and it’s not going to go anywhere if it is proposed,” Patrick said. “We had that conversation with the legislative leaders. They are not interested, they have no appetite in changing the law and I have no appetite in changing it.”

State Representative Bradley H. Jones Jr., the House Republican leader, warned Democrats not to tinker with the law to gain a political advantage. “Regardless of the merits of the way the law was crafted, it is the law and to change it to benefit any one party or individual would be wrong,” Jones said in a statement.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who oversees elections in Masssachusetts, said his office was ready to hold party primaries in mid-May and a general election in mid-to-late June, depending on when Kerry formally vacates his seat.

“Here we go again,” Galvin said, reflecting how many are bracing for yet another plunge into a major election soon after the presidential race and Brown-Warren Senate race.

Political specialists say turnout will be the key. Democrats had a distinct advantage in the recent general election, one which was partially muted when Brown was elected in the 2010 special election. But there were unusual factors that year, including an uptick in dissatisfaction with President Obama and the Democratic Party and a poor economy, said Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston said.

“The conditions in 2010, they won’t replicate. A democrat should always have an advantage in this state” in voter registration and organization, Cunningham said.

But Democrats could face a very tough battle if they need to slug out a primary while Brown, who could clear the field, builds on his already high popularity. Cunningham said that outside the Kennedy family, the Democratic field lacks charismatic candidates who could inspire voters with a grand sense of purpose the way Warren did this year and Brown did in 2010.

“I don’t think any of them would excite the electorate terribly,” he said. “They’re what I call ‘It’s my-turn candidates.”

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