Democrats preparing candidates in case Kerry moves to Obama's Cabinet

Democrats in Massachusetts are culling a list of candidates for a 2013 special election should Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) be appointed to President Obama’s Cabinet.

Recently defeated Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is the most likely pick for the GOP, but Democrats don’t want a repeat of the 2010 special election — when they lost the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat to Brown — and they’re looking to groom a strong contender to keep the position in their hands.

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One of the most obvious candidates, Gov. Deval Patrick, has said he will stay behind the governor’s desk for his full term, which expires in 2014. And retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of most prominent lawmakers in the country, has also ruled out a bid.

That has left Democrats in the state tossing around other names to replace Kerry should he be appointed either secretary of State or secretary of Defense.

Tad Devine, a Massachusetts Democratic consultant who advised Steve Pagliuca in his ill-fated primary run in the 2010 special election, said this primary would likely be more competitive than the last.

“Unless a governor runs, I don’t think there's a dominant player on the political stage that would walk in there and have that advantage that Martha Coakley had,” he said.

Coakley could run, but multiple Massachusetts Democrats said it was unlikely, given that she lost to Brown in the 2010 special election.

Massachusetts Democratic Reps. Stephen Lynch, Edward Markey and Michael Capuano are all possibilities.

Capuano told The Associated Press that he would consider running, and would enter the race prepared — he came in second in the 2010 special and has over $500,000 cash on hand.

Lynch, too, told The Hill in an email that “if a Senate seat were to become available, I would give serious consideration to running.”

But one Massachusetts Democratic strategist, who asked for anonymity in order to speak candidly, said Lynch, considered the most conservative of the Massachusetts delegation, would have a hard time emerging from a tight primary.

“Lynch would need a seven-person race to win the primary because he's very conservative. And it would make it tough to win a special election against a Scott Brown,” the strategist said.

Markey has not yet indicated his intentions, but he passed over the opportunity in 2010. However, with $3.2 million in his campaign coffers and no chance to gain a chairmanship in the foreseeable future, a Senate run might be the next best step for the congressman.

Former Rep. Marty Meehan, who’s serving as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, could run. Though he’s explicitly said he’s not interested, Meehan has nearly $5 million sitting in his campaign account and plenty of good will in the state.

And money in the bank is necessary for a candidate hoping to win. Devine said a candidate could drop $6 million easily on a primary run alone.

That’s why Massachusetts Democrats have suggested a number of names from the private sector who could throw their hats in the ring.

Bain Capital managing partner Pagliuca, who came in last in the 2010 special-election primary, and David D’Alessandro, a businessman and prominent public figure involved in Boston administrative issues, are seen as possible contenders.

Other public figures, including state Treasurer Steve Grossman, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and former New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, could run for the seat as well, though multiple Democrats said they looked more like 2014 gubernatorial contenders than candidates in a Senate special election.

And unlikely prospects include those who have run before: Setti Warren, who conceded early on to Elizabeth Warren in the 2012 Senate Democratic primary and would risk hurting his reelection bid for mayor of Newton in 2014 if he were to run in a difficult Senate special election; relatively unknown 2012 Senate primary contender Marisa DeFranco; and Alan Khazei, who has now launched two failed Senate bids.

Part of the reason Brown won in 2010, and why Elizabeth Warren beat him in 2012, is that they came to the field as outsiders. One Massachusetts Democratic strategist said that outsider status is advantageous in the state, and would be a boon to any candidate trying to topple Brown.

“People follow politics here really closely,” the strategist said, “so if you've been around for a while, they may like you in your current job, but they're not looking to boost you to your next.”

Some of those newcomers suggested by Democrats are state Sen. Ben Downing and Rep.-elect Joe Kennedy III, but party strategists worry Kennedy might face backlash running for Senate after just a few months in public office.

It seems like a foregone conclusion that Brown would launch another bid, and he has left the door open to it, saying cryptically in his concession speech on election night that “defeat is only temporary.”

If he ran and won, he’d have to run for Kerry’s full term in 2014. It’s eerily similar to what happened to him before: winning the 2010 special before having to run again in 2012, which he lost by 8 percent. And a 2014 race would be his fourth Senate campaign in four years.

Scott Ferson, president of the Liberty Square Group and former adviser to the late Sen. Kennedy, said the gubernatorial run might be more attractive for Brown.

“There might be some sense on a federal level that Massachusetts is just not well-suited to send a Republican down to Washington,” he said.

Such a choice would open up the field for Republicans, but thus far only a few names have emerged: Republican Richard Tisei, who launched a strong but ultimately unsuccessful bid to unseat Rep. John Tierney (D) this year, told The Hill he’d back Brown. However, he also said that “you never know what the future will bring” and wouldn’t rule out a run if Brown didn’t enter the race. Former Gov. Bill Weld could also run for the seat.

But Brown might remain the best contender in a special election. He emerged from the 2012 election with high popularity despite Warren’s attacks, and a ready-made political operation that he could launch into action immediately if necessary.

The conditions for a special election, including lower turnout and the lack of an iconic candidate like Warren, could boost Brown as well, said Massachusetts GOP strategist Rob Gray.

“Brown's potential advantage is he'll have a weaker opponent and a better electorate. He starts with high favorables, a statewide organization and a huge fundraising potential — I don't think it’s a lay-up for the guy, but I certainly think it's winnable,” he said.