The Democratic establishment inside and outside Massachusetts is quickly lining up behind Rep. Ed Markey (D) in the likely special election for Sen. John Kerry's seat.

Kerry himself is supporting the longtime House member; so is the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.

"While I began last week to formally step out of politics, and it's very important that I respect the apolitical nature of the post I hope to soon occupy, as Massachusetts' senior senator today and as a colleague of Ed Markey's for 28 years, I'm excited to learn of and support his decision to run for the United States Senate," Kerry said in a statement. "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."

Kennedy quickly chimed in. "I believe that Congressman Ed Markey is the best person to continue in the tradition of John Kerry," she said. "He will be a superb senator for Massachusetts." Some Democrats were hoping Kennedy herself would run.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) followed with a statement as chairman of the DSCC, calling Markey “exactly the kind of leader Massachusetts needs in the U.S. Senate.”

Assuming he wins Senate confirmation, Kerry will take over for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton some time after the inauguration. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) will appoint an interim senator to replace him, and there will be a special election later in the year. 

A Kerry aide says that the senator will be voting for Markey. But in a nod to his likely future as an apolitical statesman, the statement never uses the word "endorse." 

Markey, the dean of the Massachusetts delegation, entered the race Thursday. 

"I am humbled and honored to have his strong support in this race," Markey said in response to Kerry's announcement. He thanked Kennedy for her support as well, praising her as a "public service powerhouse."

A recent poll suggests that any Democratic candidate will face a formidable foe in Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass), who lost to Elizabeth Warren in the fall and has made no secret of his desire to return to office. The prospect of another race against Brown, who took office in a 2010 special election, is almost certainly a factor in Democrats' decision to line up behind a candidate so quickly. 

Markey comes well-funded; he has $3.1 million in his campaign account as of late November. But he doesn't yet have much of a statewide profile; a recent WBUR-TV poll showed that one in three voters had never heard of him. 

A member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Markey was first elected in 1976 and ranks ninth in House seniority. He hoped to run for Senate in 1984, but withdrew before the primary, deferring to the state's lieutenant governor -- John Kerry.