Rep. Frank retirement announcement opens unexpected seat in 2012 race

Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-Mass.) announcement that he would not seek reelection has sparked a torrent of speculation, maneuvering and calculation as potential candidates assess whether to jump into a race for a seat they didn’t expect would be open.

More than a dozen possible contenders have expressed interest in the seat or found themselves the subject of speculation that they’ll get in the race.

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Democrats are bullish about being able to hold on to the seat Frank held for more than three decades. Even with redistricting — which drew the Democrat-heavy town of New Bedford, Mass., into another district, making Frank’s district slightly more Republican — Democrats still hold the advantage, and 61 percent of voters there would have chosen President Obama under the redrawn boundaries.

“Given the presidential year, the Democrats look good to hold the seat,” Frank said on Tuesday, adding that he was amused to see a number of Republicans express interest in running only after he announced his retirement on Monday. “Which is in effect a concession that I guess I would have been reelected.”

In the immediate aftermath of the first reports of Frank’s retirement, attention turned to the three former Senate candidates who dropped out of the primary after Elizabeth Warren entered the race to unseat Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) — the only Republican in the state’s congressional delegation. 

Those candidates would ostensibly start with a leg up, because they had already built the fundraising structure and support base to campaign for federal office during this cycle.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren, one of the three to back out of the Senate race, nixed the idea on Monday, ruling out a run during his introductory remarks at the news conference where Frank announced his retirement.

But entrepreneur Alan Khazei, a solid fundraiser who had been considered the Democratic front-runner in the Senate race before Elizabeth Warren entered (he also ran in 2010), is planning to announce within a few weeks whether he will make a go for the House instead. Khazei lives in Brookline, Mass., one of four major towns in the district.

“He’s considering it,” Khazei spokesman Scott Ferson said Tuesday. “Unlike other people who might be looking at it, he obviously was preparing to run in 2012 and had the infrastructure in place. This presents another opportunity.”

In addition to Khazei, Sam Sutter, the district attorney in Bristol County, is expected to run. Other names being floated in political circles in Massachusetts include prominent state Sens. Marc Pacheco, Mike Rodrigues and Cynthia Creem.

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“These are the usual suspects. There may be something to come yet — the Elizabeth Warren effect. Someone could be hanging around we aren’t thinking about,” said Lou DiNatale, a longtime Democratic strategist in Massachusetts. “I don’t think anyone in this field would scare anybody else off.”

Another big name receiving a lot of attention is Joseph Kennedy III, the son of former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II (D-Mass.) and grandson of former Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-N.Y.).

“That would make sense,” DiNatale said. “That wouldn’t be a bad district for a Kennedy kid.”

On the Republican side, physician Elizabeth Childs had already announced her plans to challenge Frank, but hasn’t raised the big dollars needed to be competitive as a Republican in Massachusetts. Sean Bielat, who came within 11 points of unseating Frank in 2010, could also run again.