What Senate Democrats’ support for Ed Markey means

December 28, 2012

Veteran Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ed Markey’s announcement Thursday that he will run in the likely 2013 special election for Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s seat made him the first major candidate to throw his hat in the ring. A day later, Kerry, the Senate Democrats' campaign arm and the late senator Ted Kennedy’s widow, Vicki Kennedy, all offered him their support. 

In the span of two days, what once looked like a wide-open and potentially crowded Democratic race has begun to resemble a coronation.

The moves suggest a clear desire from influential Democrats to coalesce around the well-funded veteran legislator in the hopes of heading off a potentially nasty and expensive Democratic primary in advance of a potential matchup with outgoing Sen. Scott Brown (R). It’s a strategy that could pay dividends in a special general election, but it's not one without a little bit of risk.


Rep. Ed Markey (D). (Casey Cunningham/The Washington Post)

"At a time when the country needs real leadership that looks out for the middle class, Ed Markey always remembers where he came from and will continue the hard work needed to turn our economy around.  He is exactly the kind of leader Massachusetts needs in the US Senate," newly minted Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Michael Bennet (Colo.) said in a Friday statement. 

“I'm excited to learn of and support [Markey’s] decision to run for the United States Senate,” Kerry said in a statement also sent out by Senate Democrats’ campaign arm. “Ed's one of the most experienced and capable legislators in the entire Congress and it would be an almost unprecedented occasion for such an accomplished legislator to join the Senate able to hit the ground running on every issue of importance to Massachusetts.”

An aide to Kerry, who was recently nominated by President Obama to be the next secretary of state, told The Fix that the senator plans to vote for Markey, so it’s clear where he stands, even if he didn't explicitly use the word "endorsement." 

Clearing the field has a clear upside for Senate Democrats. If Brown — a proven fundraiser with high name ID — ends up as the GOP nominee, the last thing Democrats will want is a bruised and underfunded nominee to face him.

In Markey, Democrats would have a nominee with an already impressive cash reserve: He had a robust $3.1 million in his campaign account as of late November. That’s a hefty sum, especially compared to other potential Democrats in the delegation who may enter the mix. Rep. Michael Capuano had about $491,000 on hand, while Rep. Stephen Lynch had about $790,000.

On the other hand, the early establishment support for Markey could prompt other Democratic candidates to paint him as a hand-selected choice, and use that against him in the campaign. (Charlie Crist learned that the hard way in the 2010 Florida GOP Senate primary). 

But that presupposes that other formidable Democrats will run. For now at least, they aren’t exactly racing to do so. So far, the potential race has prompted more high-profile Democratic nos than yeses. 2010 nominee Martha Coakley, the state’s attorney general, said Wednesday she won’t be running. Neither will actor Ben Affleck, Edward M. Kennedy Jr. or Rep. Niki Tsongas. Former congressman Marty Meehan isn’t “running for anything,” he said in August.

 Lynch, Capuano, state Sen. Ben Downing and former candidate Setti Warren, among others, might all still run. But each of them would have to face down the well-funded dean of the House delegation and the candidate supported by Kerry and Kennedy, which is enough to make even the boldest Bay State politician change his or her plans.

For his part, Markey still has a ways to go before becoming a household name in Massachusetts. A recent WBUR-TV poll showed that one in three voters had never heard of him, a bit more than either Lynch or Capuano. So, Markey will have to work to build a statewide profile. 

But it’s hard to design a better start to that effort than the reception Markey has received in the hours since he made his bid official. We'll find out in the coming weeks who, if anyone, dares to challenge him on the Democratic side. 

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan | December 28, 2012