Massachusetts special election: Who will run?

December 20, 2012

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's expected appointment to become the next Secretary of State is close to becoming official, which means we're almost assured of a second special Senate election in three year in the Bay State.

We've already examined the race ahead in some detail, including Sen. Scott Brown's (R-Mass.) chances of returning to the Senate after his 2012 loss. And a new poll from WBUR-TV today shows Brown would start the race with a significant lead on all comers, including popular Gov. Deval Patrick (D).

Below, we're dusting off our previous list of potential candidates, complete with some new names and some updates:


Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.). (AP)

* Brown: Make no mistake: In Massachusetts, it’s hard to see Republicans having ANY chance at this seat without Brown. Of course, nobody saw Brown as a strong contender when he first ran in 2010, so anything can happen. But Republican leaders would be more than happy to hand Brown the keys again. His popularity took a bit of a hit this year, but he's still in very good stead with the voters of Massachusetts, with the WBUR polling gauging his favorable rating at 58 percent. One reason he wouldn’t run: Whoever wins would have to run for a full term in 2014, which would mean that Brown would set himself up to run four high-profile Senate campaigns in just five years if he won. That’s A LOT.

* Attorney General Martha Coakley (D): She took lots of blame for her loss to Brown in 2010 (think: shaking hands in the cold at Fenway Park, Curt Schilling is a Yankees fan, and her ill-fated pre-election vacation), but she remains one of the most popular Democrats in Massachusetts, behind only Patrick and Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren. Coakley is keeping her options open, including a potential run for governor in 2014 when Patrick will be term limited out. And the WBUR poll shows her second in the Democratic primary behind Patrick, who has said he won't run.

* Rep. Ed Markey (D): Often mentioned as a potential Senate candidate, he passed on the 2010 race and on challenging Brown in 2012. But with Republicans looking like a good bet to hold the House for a while, Markey may give up on trying to become a House chairman again and take the plunge. He had $3.2 million cash on hand at last check, which is a healthy start, and he recently conducted a poll, which should tell you where his head's at.

* Rep. Michael Capuano (D): He lost to Coakley in the primary for the 2010 race and was rumored as a potential Brown challenger this year. He didn’t raise money like someone ramping up for another Senate campaign this cycle, though, and has less than $500,000 cash on hand.

* Rep. Stephen Lynch (D): The third House member to figure prominently in early discussions, Lynch may have problems in the primary given that he was one of only a few Democrats who voted against Obama’s health care bill. Lynch took out nomination papers for the 2010 race but was booed over health care at a rally, and never formally joined the race.

* Patrick: The two-term governor has said he will not run for Senate, but he has very good approval and favorability ratings in recent polls. He gained acclaim at the Democratic National Convention when he told his fellow Democrats to “grow a backbone,” and he would also be running to be the only black Democrat in the Senate if he ran and won. On the other hand, his state has a pair of medical scandals unfolding, he has said he would serve out his term as governor, and he’s also been rumored as a potential Cabinet pick for Obama (Attorney General?). It's very unlikely Patrick changes his mind, but he's Democrats' top potential candidate, with a 60 percent favorable rating.

* Edward Kennedy Jr. (D): The longtime senator's son seems to be the most likely Kennedy to run, with the senator's widow, Vicki Kennedy, showing little interest in elective politics, and his grandnephew Joe Kennedy III set to be sworn into his first term in the House in the coming weeks. But Ted Jr. hasn't shown too much interest, and at least as of right now, he lives in Connecticut.

* Rep.-elect Joe Kennedy III (D): Yes, it would be hard for Kennedy to launch a Senate campaign shortly after being sworn into the House, and Rep.-elect Kennedy's office has already said no. But this is a Kennedy we’re talking about. And he’s 32-years-old, which is actually older than great-uncle Ted was when he first won his seat. If his House race is any sign ($4 million raised), “JK3″ could easily raise the funds quickly. (Side note: If the well-funded Brown runs, Democrats will want a fundraising juggernaut to run against him -- someone who could raise money quickly after what seems likely to be a bruising primary.)

* Marty Meehan (D): Like Patrick, Meehan has already said no. “I’m not running for anything,” Meehan said in August. “I would never walk away from this place now. There’s too much left to be done, and I’m going to finish.” (The former congressman left the House in 2007 to become chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.) Meehan also passed on running in 2010 and 2012. Still, he’s got $4.8 million in the bank, which is more than just about anybody else in the House. 

* Richard Tisei (R): This might be the GOP’s backup plan if Brown says no. Tisei, a former state senator, ran a tough campaign against Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) in a Democratic district this year and nearly won.

* Bill Weld (R): The former GOP governor has also been getting mentioned and seems to be just fine with that. And he has run for Senate before, giving Kerry a scare in 1996. But he's been out of the game for a while now, and it's hard to see him wanting back in.

* Setti Warren (D): The second best-known Warren in Massachusetts Democratic politics, the Newton mayor was emerging as the frontrunner in a weak Democratic Senate primary field before Elizabeth Warren came along in 2011. He soon cleared the way for her, though, and probably built up some goodwill because of it. The question is whether Setti Warren convinced Democrats that he’s ready for the big time.

* State Sen. Ben Downing (D): The 31-year old state senator, who has been in office since 2006 and chairs the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, is likely to run for the seat. Downing is also a former aide to Massachusetts Reps. Bill Delahunt, Richard Neal, John Olver.

* Ben Affleck (D): We include Affleck because this blog is supposed to be fun and because "Argo" was a great movie (The Fix Boss also liked "Gigli," for what it's worth). And Affleck himself isn't ruling it out. Crazier things have happened. (Gov. Jesse Ventura, anyone?)

Now, for the specifics of the special election:

Patrick is responsible for picking the dates of the primary and special elections, with the latter being held within 160 days of the vacancy being declared. That would put the race likely in mid-2013, depending upon how quickly Kerry is confirmed.

The primary must be held six weeks before the special election.

There would also be a temporary appointment before the special election. In 2009, Patrick appointed Paul Kirk as a caretaker and said that whoever fills that slot should be someone who will not run in the special election. He's set to do the same thing this year, with names like Vicki Kennedy and Michael Dukakis being floated. (Dukakis has said he wouldn't do it.)

And as we noted above, whoever wins would have to run again in 2014, when the seat is up for a full term.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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Chris Cillizza · December 20, 2012