Former Republican senator Scott Brown's decision not to make a Senate comeback bid ensures this much: Democratic Rep. Ed Markey is now in the driver's seat in the special election race for Sen. John Kerry's seat.
Markey's road to the Senate is not without obstacles -- he still has to get by Rep. Stephen Lynch in the primary and whoever Republicans wind up nominating (think Gabriel Gomez) -- but what's now clear is that the special election is Markey's to lose.
1) Money and endorsements: Markey has both. Kerry backs him, other prominent Bay State Democrats have endorsed him, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is behind him. He also had a healthy $3.1 million in his campaign account as of late last year.
It's going to be awfully tough for Lynch to compete with both Markey's financial resources and the political capital -- and organization -- his impressive list of endorsers can brings to bear. Impossible? No. (In fact, we only have to look at Brown's unlikely 2010 victory to be reminded that there are no sure things in special elections.) But difficult? Very.
The special primary will be held April 30 and the special general election will be June 25.
2) A different general election: One of the concerns Democrats had about this race was that a crowded field might yield a bruising, expensive primary that would leave the eventual nominee wounded heading into a matchup against Brown. That's one of the reasons party leaders sought to clear the field for Markey.
But sans Brown, the general election does not look quite as imposing, and Markey can go all out financially to get by Lynch. Of course, with the primary stakes raised, Lynch, too, will go all out -- knowing being the Democratic nominee is tantamount to being the next senator.
"Without a strong GOP candidate -- and Brown arguably was the strongest -- then the primary could decide the seat," said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. "While it is good news for Markey and it is going to make Lynch all the more aggressive. So the primary could be even more hard fought and Democrats have to resist complacency without Brown in the race."
Added Lynch spokesman Scott Ferson: "We will run a different, grass roots campaign. In a short primary, big money isn’t going to win this, hard work will, and no one works harder than Stephen Lynch."
3) About that GOP field... Beyond Brown, the Republican bench is pretty thin in Massachusetts. Some names to keep an eye on include former state senator Richard Tisei, former governor William Weld, and former Navy Seal Gomez.
For now at least, none of them look like they can pack the punch that Brown would have or raise the money that he would have hauled. (Of course, Brown, a little known state senator back in late 2009, didn't look like he could win either.)
In other words: Before Friday, Markey was the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, and polls show he had a decent shot in the general election. Now, he is still the Democratic frontrunner and has a far better than average chance in the general election.