US Representative Edward J. Markey, dean of the state’s Washington delegation, will run in 2013 for the Senate seat expected to open with the nomination of Senator John F. Kerry to head the State Department.
Markey, 66, a Malden Democrat elected to the House in 1976, is the first prominent candidate to declare a run for Kerry’s seat, which will be filled through a special election early next summer, probably in June. Kerry, a Democrat and head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate in coming weeks as the next secretary of state.
The Massachusetts special election is likely to be a closely watched national race and a potential harbinger for the 2014 midterm elections.
“I have decided to run for the US Senate because this fight is too important,’’ Markey said in a statement to the Globe. “There is so much at stake.’’
Two other Bay State congressmen, Michael E. Capuano of Somerville and Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston, both Democrats, have also expressed interest in seeking Kerry’s seat, but have announced no decision.
Running in a special election is a low-risk venture for House incumbents. If they lose, they would still be members of Congress and be able to run for reelection as favored incumbents in 2014. State Senator Benjamin B. Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat, is expected to announce next week that he is forming an exploratory committee for a possible Senate run.
Senator Scott Brown, a Republican who lost his seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in November, is the most likely GOP candidate in the 2013 special election.
Markey declined to be interviewed, and he plans a formal campaign announcement in January. The longtime congressman sees the Senate as a better opportunity while the GOP controls the House of Representatives, according to someone close to Markey but not authorized to speak on his behalf. As a member of the House minority, a Democrat even with such a long incumbency is largely powerless. In the Senate, freshman senators can adopt national platforms and wield influence.
Markey’s announcement was made just three days after Edward M. Kennedy Jr., a son of the late US senator, said he would pass on the Massachusetts race and may run in the future in Connecticut, where he now lives.
Governor Deval Patrick will appoint a temporary senator to fill the seat once Kerry is confirmed to his new job. Patrick has said he favors appointing a caretaker who will not seek the seat in the special election.
Markey, or any of the other sitting congressmen, would have to resign his seat in the House to take the temporary Senate appointment, greatly increasing the political risk of running in the special election. Markey will not ask for the appointment, said the person familiar with his decision.
Philip W. Johnston, a former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party who remains a key party operative,
endorsed Markey Thursday and said he hopes Democrats can “avoid an expensive, divisive primary.’’
Markey begins the race with about $3.1 million in his campaign account, a “really nice fund-raising lead’’ that may give pause to other prominent Democrats considering a run, said Stonehill College political scientist Peter Ubertaccio. Capuano had about $491,000 in campaign cash on hand in late November; Lynch had $740,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“Congressman Capuano wishes Congressman Markey well,’’ Capuano spokeswoman Alison Mills wrote in an e-mail. “He will make a decision in the coming days.’’
Lynch, in a statement, said, “While I am giving serious thought to running for the US Senate and have received great encouragement, at this point I am still focused on my job as a congressman and am working with my colleagues in the Massachusetts delegation to find solutions to the fiscal cliff.’’
Brown, who won his seat in a 2010 special election after Senator Edward M. Kennedy died in office, has not said whether he will run again. He has about $464,000 in his campaign account, but is a prolific fund-raiser. Brown could not be reached Thursday.
If Brown runs, he would be a battle-tested candidate after two hard-fought statewide races in the past three years. Markey, though far more experienced in government, “hasn’t run in a competitive congressional race in decades,’’ said Ubertaccio. “He’s moved up the ranks in Congress and is very much a creature of Washington, which can be problematic in a tough statewide race.’’
Nate Little, executive director of the state Republican Party, downplayed Markey as “kind of old news’’ after 36 years in office and predicted the congressman would lack the star power to keep other Democrats out of the race. “He’s not that named heavyweight the Democrats were hoping for,’’ he said. Little said he did not know if Brown will run.
The Globe reported last week that Markey had conducted a private poll testing his position in a hypothetical match-up with Brown. The pollster asked about Markey’s perceived strengths, such as his work on clean energy legislation and his opposition to Bush-era tax cuts. The poll also asked about potential vulnerabilities, such as Markey’s votes on tax increases and whether the congressman has spent too much time in Washington. The results were not made public.
Markey’s spirited announcement statement signaled that he is prepared for a hard-swinging campaign and is ready to defend several traditional liberal positions.
“With Senator Kerry’s departure, Massachusetts voters will decide once again whether we want a senator who will fight for all our families or one who supports a Republican agenda that benefits only the powerful and well connected,’’ Markey said. “I refuse to allow the Tea Party-dominated Republican Party to lead us off the fiscal cliff and into recession. I won’t allow the [National Rifle Association] to obstruct an assault weapons ban yet again. I will not sit back and allow oil and coal industry lobbyists to thwart our clean energy future or extremists to restrict women’s rights and health care.’’
John Rosenthal, founder and chairman of the group Stop Handgun Violence, said he has known Markey for years and declared “there is nobody better to take a leadership role on passing effective national gun violence laws than Ed.’’
Markey is the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and also serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Scott Nathan, chairman of the League of Conservation Voters, said Thursday that he was thrilled to back Markey, whom he called “a champion fighting for the clean-energy economy.’’
Markey is a graduate of Boston College and Boston College Law School and a veteran of the US Army Reserve. He announced a run for US Senate in 1984, but withdrew from the race before the primary. Kerry won that seat and has held it since.
In his announcement, Markey said he favors spending money on “innovation and jobs,’’ protecting Social Security and Medicare, and “a sane approach to guns and violence.’’ In the House, Markey has also worked extensively on telecommunications issues. He called for “a national policy that makes our country energy- independent and curbs the pollution that is causing global warming.’’