Multiple Democrats in Massachusetts probably would seek to replace U.S. Senator John Kerry, should he succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, a scenario that would complicate the party's effort to hold the seat.
The candidates would battle each other during a short and divisive primary that would precede a special election, said Peter Ubertaccio, director of Martin Institute at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. By contrast, Republicans are likely to quickly settle on a well-known contender: Scott Brown, who lost his U.S. Senate seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren last month, he said. "If there's anything that could help resurrect Brown, it's the Democratic Party," said Ubertaccio, who teaches American government at the college. "If it's a crowded primary field that brings everybody down."
Kerry, 69, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has become the leading contender to replace Clinton after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a letter released by the White House yesterday that she was withdrawing from consideration for the post. A decision by President Barack Obama to nominate Kerry may come next week, according to two administration officials who asked for anonymity to discuss personnel.
The Democratic Party won't again take for granted its advantage in voter registration in Massachusetts against Republicans after Brown's 2010 victory in a special election, said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic consultant with the Dewey Square Group in Boston.
"It's not going to be the same as the last special election when a lot of people were asleep at the switch," she said. "That means making sure your candidate has all the resources to wage and win a six-week election, whenever it may be."
The only clear frontrunner among Democrats in a potential Senate race is Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Ubertaccio said. Patrick, though, has repeatedly said he will serve out his second term, which ends in 2014.
"I've got the only job in politics I want," he told reporters in Boston today when asked about running for the Senate in a special election.
Potential Democratic candidates for Kerry's seat could include members of the state's House delegation, particularly those from the Boston area, including Mike Capuano, Ed Markey, Stephen Lynch and Bill Keating, Ubertaccio said. None of them would have to resign their seats to run in a special election, he said.
Marsh added to the list Ben Downing, a state senator from Western Massachusetts. Voters have a history of favoring fresh faces such as his, she said, pointing to the victories of Brown, Warren and Patrick as evidence.
A special election would benefit Brown because those contests typically attract fewer Democratic voters than regularly scheduled elections, said David Paleologos, who directs Suffolk University's polling institute in Boston.
When a senator resigns, Massachusetts law calls for the governor to appoint a temporary replacement until a special election is held, which must occur between 145 to 160 days following the vacancy. In 2009, Patrick appointed Paul Kirk after U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy died in August of that year. Kirk didn't run for the seat and Brown beat Democrat Martha Coakley in the January 2010 special election.
Deval said today that should Kerry give up his seat, he would again appoint an interim replacement who wouldn't run in the special election. "I expect to do the same thing I did last time," he said.
Warren, a Harvard University professor, defeated Brown 54 percent to 46 percent. In the new congressional session that convenes in early January, Democrats will control 55 seats in the Senate to 45 for the Republicans.
Kerry, 69, first won his seat in 1984 and won his last re- election race, in 2008, with 66 percent of the vote. He lost the 2004 presidential election to incumbent George W. Bush.