The Fix: Kirk Is Frontrunner for Kennedy Successor

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 2009; 5:30 PM

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) is leaning heavily toward naming Paul Kirk, a longtime aide to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, as the interim senator with an announcement in the next 24 hours likely, according to a source familiar with the machinations.

The final procedural hurdle to Patrick making that appointment was cleared Wednesday when the Massachusetts Legislature gave final approval to a bill that allows the governor to name an interim replacement for the U.S. Senate.

Patrick, who is recovering from hip surgery in the Berkshires, has said he would sign such a bill. He will still need to declare an emergency to appoint an interim senator immediately, filling in until a successor to Kennedy is chosen in a Jan. 19 special election.

The governor has said nothing in regards the pick, but most Massachusetts operatives expect him to make it formal Thursday.

Massachusetts lawmakers had already changed the replacement law in 2004, to take away appointment power from the governor for fear that Mitt Romney (R) would appoint a Republican to fill the vacancy if Sen. John Kerry (D) were elected president.

Kirk has emerged as the favorite over the last few days thanks to two major attributes: his closeness to the Kennedy family and a belief that his selection would do no harm to the political prospects of the governor or the state legislature.

Kennedy's widow, Vickie, as well as his two sons -- Rep. Patrick Kennedy and businessman Edward Kennedy Jr. -- had all made clear to Patrick that Kirk would be their preferred choice, according to the Boston Globe.

The Kirk selection is also regarded as a "safe" pick by many Massachusetts politicos who wondered whether the selection of former governor Michael Dukakis, the other name regularly mentioned as a caretaker, might overshadow the ongoing Senate special election and provide fodder for critics of the already embattled Patrick.

Kirk spent much of the 1970s working as a special assistant to Kennedy in his Senate office before doing a turn as chairman of the Democratic National Committee in the late 1980s. He is currently the chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation board of directors.

His pick would also follow a blueprint used earlier this year in Delaware when then Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) selected Ted Kaufman, a longtime aide to Sen. Joe Biden, to replace fill the vacancy caused by Biden's election as vice president.

Kirk would be the fourth Democratic senator appointed to the chamber this year. Kaufman as well as Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.) were appointed to fill vacancies earlier this year.

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