While private-sector work world went on vacation, political world went through an upheaval

During the 12 days of Christmas vacation for many in the working world, the Massachusetts political world has undergone an upheaval.

President Obama has tapped Senator John F. Kerry to be the country’s next secretary of state.

Kerry and Vicki Kennedy have thrown their support behind Representative Edward J. Markey to succeed him as senator.

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And Representatives Michael E. Capuano and Stephen F. Lynch have ruminated about their own candidacies in the special election to succeed Kerry, as has another Democrat, state Senator Benjamin Downing.

Meanwhile, Governor Deval Patrick has kept close counsel about who he will tap to succeed Kerry on an interim basis, fueling a guessing game there, as well.

Similarly quiet is Senator Scott Brown, who will leave office Thursday after being defeated for reelection by Democrat Elizabeth Warren, but who could return to the Senate by summer if the Republican mounts his own special election candidacy.

An update on each situation:

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On Dec. 21, Kerry joined Obama in the Roosevelt Room at the White House as the president nominated him to be the country’s 68th secretary of state.

Since then, the senator has largely been quiet, returning to Capitol Hill immediately after the announcement for a series of routine votes, and then hanging around before the Christmas and New Year’s holidays as lawmakers churned toward a “fiscal cliff” compromise.

In between, he flew out to Ketchum, Idaho, for an abbreviated holiday break, but back in the capital, he has begun to turn his sights toward winding down his 28-year Senate tenure and focusing his attention on his new job.

His office has already been deluged with resumes from job-seekers, while his current staff is anxiously weighing decisions about whether to try to go with him to the State Department or stay behind on Capitol Hill.

Senate aides say no date has been set for his confirmation hearing, nor has there been a resolution to many details such as who from the White House will shepherd his nomination through the Senate gauntlet.

Overshadowing the situation is the health problems that have beset the current secretary, Hillary Rodham Clinton. She has been hospitalized in New York after doctors discovered a blood clot in her head following a fall and a concussion she sustained in mid-December.

The Senate aides say they do not expect Clinton’s situation to accelerate the timetable for Kerry’s confirmation proceedings, and Obama himself said he wanted to give the country’s most-traveled secretary a proper send-off before she leaves the administration.

The best guess is that a confirmation hearing will be held in mid-January, with a vote on the nomination shortly after Obama’s public inaugural is held on Jan. 21. That would set in motion the gears for a special election by the end of June.

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With that in mind, Markey—a former basketball player- has tried to box out the competition not only by publicly declaring his interest in competing as a special election candidate, but by making the bold move late last week of engineering a series of endorsements intended to give his own nomination an aura of inevitability.

In a series of coordinated endorsements, Kerry, Vicki Kennedy, and the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee each issued statements announcing their support for Markey.

In an example of diplomat-speak, Kerry did not expressly endorse Markey to succeed him, but he added: “I’m excited to learn of and support his decision to run for the US Senate.”

Kennedy, widow of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and once posited as a special election candidate herself, echoed the sentiment in a statement 46 minutes later.

“Ed Markey is the right person for the job. He will be a superb senator for Massachusetts,” she said.

More damning for Capuano and Lynch was the statement that came eight minutes later from DSCC Chairman Michael Bennet. The Colorado senator heads the campaign committee charged with electing Democrats to the Senate, and his work is closely monitored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as the Democratically controlled White House.

“Ed Markey has spent his career fighting for the people of Massachusetts,” Bennet said. “He is exactly the kind of leader Massachusetts needs in the US Senate.”

The DSCC endorsement is most problematic for the other congressmen because it indicates the Democratic establishment and money machine are aligning behind Markey. And money is the lifeblood of any political campaign.

Downing, a three-term state senator from Pittsfield, could run with the goal of raising his name recognition in vote-rich eastern Massachusetts, but he would do so at the risk of ostracizing himself from his own party leadership.

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Markey has limited his own commentary about a candidacy to a pair of written statements, the first of which declared his interest in running and the second of which expressed gratitude for the Kerry and Kennedy endorsements.

A top aide says he will stay silent this week as the 112th Congress completes its business and the 113th Congress is sworn in Thursday. The aide said a bunting-draped formal announcement is more likely next week, or shortly thereafter.

Markey has been calling other elected officials in Massachusetts, trying to add to his endorsement roster. The next big one he is angling to unveil is that of Attorney General Martha Coakley, who ran and failed in the last Massachusetts Senate special election campaign but remains a prominent player in the state political establishment.

Lynch has been especially spartan in his public commentary, but he’s also been aggressively working the phone lines trying to gauge support from elected officials statewide and members of the labor movement.

His calculation is that with a South Boston base and a background as both an ironworker and social conservative, he has a blue-collar base that could deliver him roughly 25 percent of the vote in a crowded primary field.

But if Capuano drops out and Markey cements an air of invincibility, Lynch would have an uphill fight.

Capuano, meanwhile, has lived up to his pugnacious reputation, saying he hasn’t yet decided if he will be a candidate, but “if I make this run, it will be the same way—from the streets up, not from the elite down.”

The former Somerville mayor ran that way in the Democrats’ 2009 special election primary—the only congressman from the state to do so—but he also lost the nomination to Coakley.

Capuano’s challenge is evident in the congressmen’s respective fund-raising situations: Markey has $3.1 million in the bank, while Lynch has less than a quarter of that—$740,000—and Capuano has less than one-sixth—$491,000.

If the DSCC and the rest of the Democratic establishment are helping Markey raise cash, it will be hard for Capuano to close that gap.

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The great unknown presently is whether Brown himself will mount a campaign.

A recent WBUR-MassINC poll showed the senator second only to the governor in terms of favorability rating among Massachusetts politicians yet beating Patrick 47 percent to 40 percent in a head-to-head hypothetical Senate race.

Brown’s exact cash-on-hand tally remains a mystery until his final 2012 bills are paid, but it is less than $400,000. He is trying to engineer the selection of his deputy campaign finance director as the new chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, which would give him de facto control of over $700,000 in a party joint victory account—plenty to seed a special election campaign.

A campaign against Markey would also play to his political strengths.

Brown, a Republican in a heavily Democratic state, runs best when he rails against the establishment “machine.” It engenders an “us-vs.-them” spirit among his backers, and highlights his record of working across the political aisle to express political independence.

Markey’s attempts to stave off a costly primary campaign show he is the establishment choice against Brown, something the senator could easily exploit.

Markey also hasn’t faced a competitive race since being elected 36 years ago, while Brown is coming off two in a row.

And a recent poll Markey conducted highlighted a sure negative for Brown to exploit: A survey firm asked poll recipients for their reaction upon hearing that Markey had lived outside of Massachusetts for most of his congressional career (he now owns his parents former house in Malden, but has primarily lived with his wife in a house in Chevy Chase, Md.).

Brown accused Warren of being an outsider for being born in Oklahoma; in Markey, he’d have an opponent he could film today coming out of a Maryland house.

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The issue for Brown is the constancy of campaigning a race would entail.

He ran for reelection as state senator in 2008. He campaigned in 2009 and early 2010 in his winning US Senate special election campaign against Coakley. He lost his seat after a costly campaign in 2012 against Warren.

Now, he would have to turn around and run again for a seat whose term extends only until the fall of 2014, when Kerry’s tenure was to have ended. Then, Brown would have to campaign again for a full, six-year Senate term—all while casting votes in Congress on subjects outside his direct control, like a tax increase included in the “fiscal cliff” compromise.

All told, it would be four Senate campaigns in a five-year span. In a state where he is likely to never muster more than 52 percent of the vote.

That has fueled speculation that Brown might instead run for governor of Massachusetts in 2014, the prize being a four-year term and a CEO’s control over the levers of executive power. Were he to be elected to the Corner Office, as Republicans were for a 16-year span from 1991 to 2007, he could set his own political agenda in a State House where he has already served as a representative and a senator.

Brown also could be tempted by private-sector business offers. His wife, Gail Huff, recently returned to her part-time job as a news reporter in Washington, and the senator continues to have a National Guard posting in the capital area, making either city a possibility for future employment.

Were Brown to eschew a Senate campaign, attention would immediately shift to a possible candidacy by former Governor William F. Weld.

The Republican challenged Kerry for reelection in 1996 and lost, before relocating to New York and making a failed bid for governor. But Weld recently moved back to Massachusetts and has been granting media interviews that will surely boost his lobbying business—while simultaneously raising name recognition so critical in any political campaign.

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The more immediate question is this: What does the governor do with the Senate seat in the interim?

Under Massachusetts law, a senator’s resignation prompts a special election within 145 days to 160 days. The governor also has the option of appointing an interim senator—though he is not compelled to do so.

Patrick has said he is leaning toward appointing a caretaker senator who would not be a special election candidate, much like he did when he tapped Paul G. Kirk Jr. to fill in while Brown and Coakley battled to succeed Edward Kennedy in 2010.

Names of potential appointees have ranged from Vicki Kennedy—who did not address the possibility in her statement lauding Markey as a special election candidate—to former Governor Michael S. Dukakis.

Patrick aides said the governor has received calls from people lobbying for other choices—as well as for themselves. The list of other possible appointees has included former Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall and Susan Hockfield, the outgoing president of MIT.

The aides say the governor does not feel compelled to pick a luminary and is more interested in someone without a political agenda, and upon whom he can count on to serve as an effective partner for the state.

That has fueled speculation about a low-profile candidate such as outgoing Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez. He has been a Patrick loyalist and is intimately familiar with the state’s economic and business needs from his work as the administration’s top budgeteer.

Gonzalez also has been integral to implementation of the state’s health care law, which would give him capital currency as the country nears the 2014 implementation of the Obama health care law modeled after the Massachusetts plan.

Gonzalez has already pledged to return to the private sector after he leaves the administration, compatible with the idea of a temporary Senate appointment. And the permanent honorific of “senator”—and the lifetime access to the Senate floor it confers—wouldn’t be bad for a business career delayed until next summer.

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The only thing that is certain now, aides says, is that Patrick will not follow Kerry or Vicki Kennedy’s lead in making an early Senate endorsement. And the governor also will not announce his choice for interim senator until Kerry’s nomination is fully confirmed by the Senate.

But once Kerry tenders any resignation—even if it is timed to be effective several days hence—Patrick will move immediately to announce his choice, the aides say.

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