BOSTON -- In what would be one of this state's most competitive elections in a generation, a group of Democratic House members are preparing bids to replace John F. Kerry, should Massachusetts's junior senator be elected president.
Under state law, if Kerry wins the White House on Nov. 2, Gov. Mitt Romney (R) will appoint a successor to serve a roughly two-year term until the next general election. But state lawmakers have submitted a bill that would require a special election to be held within a few months of a Kerry victory.
Among those likely to enter such a race are three members of the Bay State's all-Democratic House delegation: Stephen Lynch, Edward J. Markey and Martin T. Meehan.
"I think a lot of people are saying to themselves, 'What have I got to lose by throwing my hat in the ring?' " said Lou DiNatale, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. "When you have all these talented people, with all these egos and all these aspirations, there is a huge amount of interest when an opportunity like this comes along, because they don't very often."
Incumbents bring advantages to a shortened campaign -- the requisite name recognition and campaign war chests. And because the special election would be held in an electoral off-year, they could compete without jeopardizing their seats; Massachusetts law prohibits candidates from running for both offices simultaneously.
In a state where one Senate seat has been all but out of play since Edward M. Kennedy (D) was elected in 1962 -- Kerry has held his seat since 1984 -- the prospect of an open seat is a rare opportunity.
"The level of interest in this seat is extremely high and the political maneuvering is underway," said Philip Johnston, Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if some others got into the race. Anyone with high name recognition and fundraising capacity or a candidate who is very wealthy could be a factor."
Markey, 57, is the first, and so far only, congressman to say on the record that he would compete for Kerry's seat. "First I intend to win reelection and do everything I can to help John Kerry win. Then the legislature has to act. Assuming all of that happens, I intend to run for that seat," he said in an interview last week.
A 14-term lawmaker and an expert on banking and telecommunications, Markey flirted with a 1984 Senate bid against Kerry. He had more than $750,000 on hand as of March 31, recently shifted his press secretary to his campaign team, making him national finance director, and has stepped up his fundraising. Markey also began taking campaign contributions from political action committees for the first time in his career, according to the Boston Herald, a move some observers attributed to the pressure to raise funds for a Senate bid.
Sources within the delegation said Meehan has confirmed he would run for Kerry's seat if the opportunity arises, while aides to Lynch say he is "leaning very heavily" toward a run.
Meehan, 47, leads the Massachusetts delegation in cash on hand, with almost $2.3 million. He is best known as one of the architects of recent campaign finance legislation. He has put his considerable fundraising prowess to work for Kerry, including hosting a fundraiser at his home. Meehan has told supporters that if a law calling for a special election is not passed, he is willing to give up his House seat to run for the Senate in 2006.
Lynch was elected to the Congress to fill a vacancy in 2001 and has just over $290,000 on hand. But the former ironworker has been tapping his considerable union support. "The urgency and the energy that this possibility creates has helped with fundraising," he said. "If this becomes a reality, no matter how you slice it, the state will end up with a freshman U.S. senator. I will have had almost four years in the House, which would be an adequate apprenticeship."
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who has served in Congress since 1980, would be a formidable candidate for Kerry's seat, political observers here said, noting that the prominent gay rights advocate could raise money from national liberal groups quickly and that his vote against the Iraq War could have appeal in a Democratic primary. Markey, Meehan, and Lynch supported the war.
Frank declined to comment on whether he is interested, citing a recent family tragedy -- the slaying of his niece -- that has turned his attention away from politics. Friends say he is considering a run, but several state Democrats said that his close relationship with Markey -- with whom he shares socially liberal politics and many local allies -- could keep one of them out of the race.