Massachusetts voters weary from one of the nation's costliest and most divisive U.S. Senate races are all but certain to find themselves thrown back into another tumultuous election now that President Barack Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry for secretary of state.
If confirmed by the Senate, as expected, Kerry would have to resign the seat he's held for nearly three decades, prompting a special election — the state's third Senate contest since 2010.
Already, jockeying is well under way. The big question is whether Republican Sen. Scott Brown will go for the seat, after losing his last month to Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.
He kept the door wide open to another run during a farewell address on the Senate floor, declaring that both victory and defeat are "temporary" things. "Depending on what happens, and where we go, all of us, we may obviously meet again."
And perhaps as soon as next year.
Brown would be a formidable candidate. He has a statewide political organization and more than $400,000 left in his campaign account. He remains popular and demonstrated an ability to raise millions of dollars in campaign donations. But he would still have to contend with all the hurdles facing any Republican in Massachusetts.
Still, he'd probably have a clear path to the GOP nomination. "The candidacy is his for the asking," said Rep. Brad Jones, the Republican leader in the Massachusetts House. "If he runs, then get out of the way and put your oar in the water and row in the same direction."
Should Brown opt out, former Gov. William Weld, former gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker and Richard Tisei, who lost a narrow race to Democratic U.S. Rep. John Tierney, are among the Republicans waiting in the wings for a possible run.
Democrats don't have a clear front-runner, given that Gov. Deval Patrick doesn't plan to break his pledge to serve out the last two years of his term.
He still could play a pivotal role.
Patrick could use his sway in the party to clear what looks like a potentially crowded Democratic field. His backing of Warren was seen as giving her a critical edge by helping energize Democratic voters. On Friday, however, he said he'd probably not endorse anyone in a Democratic primary.
Attorney General Martha Coakley, who lost to Brown in the 2010 special election, pulled her name out of contention on Friday.
Several Democratic members of the state's congressional delegation have said they would seriously consider running, including Reps. Michael Capuano, Edward Markey, Stephen Lynch, and Niki Tsongas. Most of those House members would begin a campaign with a financial edge. Markey has one of the largest war chests with more than $3.1 million, and Capuano has nearly half a million dollars in his account while Lynch has more than $740,000. Tsongas has about $166,000.
But all would have to work quickly to expand their appeal outside of their home districts.
Others mentioned by Democratic insiders as potential candidates: U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz and Ted Kennedy Jr., a son of the late senator, an advocate for the disabled and co-founder of the New York-based Marwood Group, which described itself as "a healthcare-focused strategic advisory and financial services firm."
The governor also will be required to fill Kerry's seat temporarily with an interim appointment, while setting a day for the special election between 145 days and 160 days after Kerry's resignation. In the 2010 special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, Patrick required his interim appointee, former Democratic Party chairman Paul Kirk, not to run for a full term.
Patrick said he expects anyone he appoints on a temporary basis this time would also not run in the special election.
Former Gov. Michael Dukakis, retiring Rep. Barney Frank and Victoria Kennedy, widow of Sen. Kennedy, have been mentioned in Democratic circles as possible interim senators. This week, Dukakis played down interest in the post while Kennedy declined comment.
Although Democrats are riding high off Warren's win, several of the arguments they brought to bear in the 2012 campaign wouldn't apply in a special election. They can't say, as they did in the Warren campaign, that defeating Brown might tip the balance of power in the Senate. Or that electing him would strengthen the hand of a Republican president.
Still, Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh said the party has a wide pool of candidates and attributed Brown's loss to a rejection of his voting record.
"I don't think Scott Brown is any kind of prohibitive favorite," Walsh said. But he'd "certainly be a front-runner."
If there is a special election, whoever wins shouldn't get too comfortable. The senator will face re-election in 2014, when Massachusetts voters will endure yet another Senate election.
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