With Markey in, Brown weighs his move

Prominent Massachusetts and national Democrats lined up behind Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in his announced bid for Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) seat on Friday, while one likely contender remained mum.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who lost his re-election bid this year to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, has left a trail of bread crumbs in speeches and comments since his defeat that points to another Senate run, and Massachusetts Republicans believe it’s highly likely that Brown will enter the race.

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But he has yet to officially announce, even as Markey emerges as the Democratic favorite. The decisions of Kerry himself, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), Victoria Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Ed Kennedy (D), and incoming Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) to throw their support behind Markey indicate the Democratic Party is hoping to clear the field and provide for an easy nominating process for the congressman.

With Obama's pick of Kerry for secretary of State likely to glide through an easy confirmation early next year, opening up a special election for his seat, Democrats already seem to be preparing for the race. Republicans, however, haven't yet rallied around a candidate, because the likeliest contender -- Brown -- has not yet made his bid official.

Brown’s silence may be in part because he currently has the upper hand. Though Warren defeated Brown by about eight percent, he remains the frontrunner for the Republican nomination because, as Tufts University Political Science Professor Jeffrey Berry said, few other Republicans in the state have indicated either a willingness or an ability to run.

“There’s no need for him to announce quickly because there’s no possible competitor to him for the GOP nomination. The Republican Party here has a very shallow bench and it’s hard to know who could reasonably challenge Brown in a primary,” he said.

That leaves Brown in the enviable position of being able to wait and see how the Democratic nominating process hashes out.

“It’s a smart move for him to wait because there are no Republican primary challengers likely, so he has the luxury to see how the Democratic field shapes up and announce at a time when more people are paying attention next year,” said Massachusetts Republican strategist Rob Gray, who supported Brown but was not involved in the senator’s campaign.

Brown remains the best-known potential candidate from both parties, with his name recognition one of his biggest assets going into a special election. A WBUR/MassINC Polling Group survey released last week showed that a full third of respondents had never heard of Markey, while only one percent had never heard of Brown.

That same poll gave Brown a double-digit lead over Democratic Reps. Steve Lynch and Mike Capuano, University of Massachusetts Lowell chancellor Marty Meehan (D) and Attorney General Martha Coakley (D).

However, Markey’s emergence as the Democratic Party favorite may change that. MassINC Polling Group President Steve Koczela said Brown’s lead, in part, hinged on his high profile in the state.

“A big part of the reason for that is, against Markey and the other congressmen — none of them were known particularly well statewide. If everyone comes behind one Democrat and there's not a primary, it certainly makes it easier for that candidate to get name recognition,” he said.

Brown may need to act quickly to define his apparent opponent before Markey can do so himself, a task that would require him to officially announce his candidacy, and soon.

But the special election will likely have an added facet that was missing from both of Brown’s two previous races: The influence of outside money.

The 2010 special election that launched Brown to his Senate seat occurred prior to the Citizens United court decision that provided for the creation of super-PACs, which pumped millions into campaigns at all levels this past cycle. Brown again avoided their influence in 2012, as he and Warren signed a “Peoples’ Pledge” vowing to keep outside groups on the sidelines in their race.

Berry and Gray agree that the likelihood of Brown and a potential Democratic challenger negotiating such an agreement in the constricted time span of a special election is low.

Gray added that the Peoples’ Pledge, as it was called, had little success in truly eliminating the influence of outside groups in 2012, so “if I’m Brown, I’m looking at it and saying, ‘Why go through that charade again?’”

And the influx of money from both party organizations, as well as super-PACs and nonprofits, could do much of the candidates’ dirty work for them in driving up an opponent’s negatives.

But that also means both candidates will have to raise millions to counter those outside attacks. Gray said Brown’s fundraising ability, as demonstrated by the more than $28 million he brought in in 2012, has not diminished.

“He raised a record amount and he has a huge list of active donors, so fundraising is not big on his list of challenges,” he said.

However, the unified Democratic support behind Markey could change that dynamic. If Markey doesn’t face a contested Democratic primary, he’ll have more time and resources to raise funds for a general election bid, increasing the urgency for Brown to begin to rebuild his war chest for another run.

“He has to establish a fundraising operation to raise what's going to have to be a very substantial amount of money. Massachusetts is an expensive state to campaign in,” Berry said.

Brown’s campaign committee posted just over $464,000 cash on hand at the end of November.

Patrick has indicated over the past week he'll likely appoint a caretaker to Kerry's seat once he vacates it for the secretary of State position, if he is, as looks likely, confirmed. As in 2010, that caretaker wouldn't run for the seat in 2013.

But once Kerry leaves the seat, the clock begins ticking to a special election, which would occur no more than six weeks after his exit. And with such a compressed campaign, Brown would have little time to dally before launching a bid.