Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, may be headed back to the political spotlight as he's considered a likely interim replacement for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).
President Obama is set to tap Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of State, according to media reports.
This means Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) needs to find someone to fill Kerry's seat until a special election can be held in the late spring or early summer.
Dukakis, who is 79, has remained politically active. He campaigned for Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) this fall and teaches at Northeastern University.
The Democratic primary for Kerry's seat will be intense and Patrick is expected to tap someone as an interim replacement who would promise not to run in the special election.
"He'll most likely appoint a placeholder. A lot of people speculating that's Mike Dukakis," said Jim Spencer, president of the Campaign Network, a Boston-based political consulting group. "That's the most obvious choice. Everybody thinks it's Dukakis."
David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said he has heard Dukakis floated as an interim successor along with Vicki Kennedy, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's (D-Mass.) widow.
Paleologos said Dukakis has been very close to Patrick ever since Patrick thought about running for governor.
"[Dukakis] was one of the first people he consulted with when he thought about running," said Paleologos.
Another Boston-based Democratic operative said he had heard both Dukakis and Kennedy mentioned as possible interim successors.
A trio of House Democrats are seen as strong possible contenders for the party's nomination in the special election: Reps. Ed Markey, Mike Capuano and Stephen Lynch.
Markey and Lynch have already reached out to Democratic operatives to feel out possible bids, according to a source familiar with private discussions.
One Democratic operative said Capuano has hinted in recent days he may instead run in 2014 to succeed Patrick as governor.
The state must hold a special election to fill Kerry's seat 145 to 160 days after it becomes vacant.
Patrick could tap a Democrat who plans to run in the special election if it appears the party needs an advantage against a strong Republican candidate. The strongest Republican option would be Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who lost to Warren in November, say political experts.
But Patrick has said he is likely to follow the same course he did in 2010, when he picked Paul Kirk to fill Kennedy's seat temporarily.
"I expect to do the same thing I did last time," Patrick told reporters, according to The Boston Globe. "I'm not ruling out other options. But, as a practical matter, it's hard for me to imagine how you could serve in the Senate for a four-month period and also run a statewide campaign in a four-month period and do both of them well."
Democrats are optimistic about their chances of keeping Kerry's seat. Political analysts say Brown would be easier to beat in 2013 than he was in the 2010 special election, when he defeated state Attorney General Martha Coakley.
"The context in 2013 will be different than the special election of 2010, which was in the middle of winter at a point of deep Democratic demoralization. Democrats then were unenthusiastic about their choice, they were unenthusiastic about the president," said Peter Ubertaccio, chairman of the department of political science at Stonehill College in Massachusetts.
Ubertaccio said Democrats would not be "asleep at the wheel", as he said they were in 2010, in another special election against Brown.
"If he is the nominee, it will energize Democratic voters who don't want to go through the humiliation of losing to him twice in a special election. The political winds have changed sufficiently that he's going to face a harder climb in 2012 than 2010," he said.
Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report who specializes in Senate races, noted Brown continues to enjoy a high approval rating in Massachusetts. But she agrees he will have a tougher race in 2013 than in the 2010 special election.
"I do agree the dynamic is going to be different," she said. "Democrats were pretty embarrassed by what happened, are going to work hard not to repeat history."
Brown quickly raised millions of dollars in 2010 from conservatives who were outraged over the looming passage of the Affordable Care Act and eager to capture Kennedy's seat as a political scalp. His campaign was fueled by the same enthusiasm that powered Tea Party candidates around the country that year.
The anti-Obama conservative revolt has since lost steam and winning Kerry's seat does not have the same cachet as seizing Kennedy's.
"There isn't the kind of animus against John Kerry. If the Democrats put up a formidable candidate, that candidate will give Brown a real battle," said Dan Payne, a Boston-based Democratic analyst.
Charlie Baker, who ran for governor and lost to Patrick, and former Gov. Bill Weld are other possibilities to run in the Senate Republican primary, depending on whether Brown runs again for Senate.
Payne, however, said he sees Baker and Weld as long shots to run for the Senate.
"He made an announcement the day before Susan Rice withdrew [her name from consideration for secretary of state] saying he would run in a special election," Payne said of Brown.
Brown hinted he may return to the Senate in his farewell speech last week, which political observers interpreted as a signal he would run for Kerry's seat.
"As I've said many times before, victory and defeat is temporary," Brown said. "Depending on what happens, and where we go, all of us, we may obviously meet again, but I'm looking forward to continuing on with those friendships, with continuing on working with my staff."