Expected U.S. Senate special election taking shape in Massachusetts

Monday, December 31, 2012

With Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts's nomination and likely approval as U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to replace the retiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Kerry's Senate seat is expected soon to be vacated, making necessary a special election to choose a new Senator. That potential race is now taking shape with two candidates having emerged as the frontrunners for their respective parties' nominations: Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democratic Representative Ed Markey.

Republican Senator Scott Brown
Image: United States Congress.

Massachusetts law adopted in 2004 requires a vacated seat to be filled permanently through special election held 145 to 160 days following vacation. This law was passed purportedly to prevent then-Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, from naming a replacement for Kerry, who was at the time, the Democratic presidential nominee. No such election occurred until long-time Senator Ted Kennedy died in office, vacating his seat in 2009. At the time, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick named Democrat Paul G. Kirk as a temporary replacement. Kirk chose not to run for the seat, and instead the Democrats nominated Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who lost to Brown. Now, Patrick reportedly wishes to again name a temporary replacement who will not run in the special election. Candidates for this position include: Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Ted Kennedy; former governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis; and the retiring Congressman Barney Frank.

Amid the Senate's consideration of the Affordable Health Care for America Act, Brown's 2010 election broke the Democrats' filibuster-proof super-majority in the chamber. As the first Massachusetts Republican elected since Edward Brooke in 1972, Brown gained a reputation in the Senate as a political moderate, stressing bipartisanship. However, in the most expensive Senate race in the nation's history in 2012, he lost the seat to the liberal Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, who tied him to conservative Senate Republicans. After the defeat, Republican Senators Dan Coats of Indiana, John McCain of Arizona, and Olympia Snowe of Maine each asked Brown to run for Senate again. He alluded to a potential return during his farewell address earlier in December, noting, "As I’ve said many times before, victory and defeat is temporary ... Depending on what happens, and where we go, all of us, we may obviously meet again." Though former Governor William Weld is also considered a potential Republican primary candidate, Brown leads him in opinion polls by a wide margin. Additionally, a December 17–18 poll conducted by WBUR shows Brown with a 58 percent favorability rate in his state and ahead of potential Democratic nominees Markey, former Congressman Marty Meehan, and Congressmen Mike Capuano and Stephen Lynch.

Democratic Representative Ed Markey
Image: United States Congress.

Patrick, Kennedy, Coakley, and Meehan have all denied interest in the seat as have other Democrats speculated to jump in including actor Ben Affleck and attorney Edward M. Kennedy, Jr., Ted Kennedy's son. Though Lynch and Capuano have expressed interest in the seat, Markey is thus far the only announced candidate. In a statement to The Boston Globe, Markey affirmed "this fight is too important" not to run and "there is so much at stake" in the election. He added that an official announcement would come in January. Markey, who has served in Congress since 1976, previously ran for the Senate seat in 1984 but withdrew before the primary; Kerry went on to win the primary and seat that year. Markey intends to focus his campaign on global warming, gun control, protection of Social Security and Medicare, and government spending for jobs. He has secured endorsements from both Kerry and Victoria Kennedy, and with a war chest of $3.1 million from his congressional campaigns, has significantly more funds than any of his potential primary opponents. According to political scientist Peter Ubertaccio of Stonehill College, that may discourage prominent Democrats thinking about entering the race. Nevertheless, State Senator Benjamin Downing has announced he is exploring a potential bid.

Though Markey has more money than Brown's $464,000 left from his 2012 campaign, Ubertaccio, in his analysis of the race, notes Brown has more recent campaign experience than Markey, who has not had a competitive campaign lately. Moreover, he finds Markey "very much a creature of Washington, which can be problematic in a tough statewide race." He sees the rush to support Markey as unusual, and as a way to discourage Democratic challengers to Markey. Jon Keller of Boston's CBS affiliate notes the rush was likely to allow Markey to begin attacks on Brown rather than Democrats, but he concludes the lack of choice for Democrats may give Brown an advantage as an outsider running against the insiders' hand-picked successor.