By Alexander Bolton - 10/02/12 09:00 AM EDT
Elizabeth Warren’s small lead in the Massachusetts Senate race has cast a shadow over Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) chances of becoming the next secretary of State, according to political experts in the commonwealth.
Their logic: If Warren, a Democrat, wins Sen. Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) seat and President Obama wins reelection — and then appoints Kerry to his Cabinet — that would leave Brown the favorite to take Kerry’s Senate seat in a special election.
That could leave Obama unlikely to risk a safe Democratic seat to fill the job of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said she’ll leave Foggy Bottom early next year.
Peter Ubertaccio, chairman of the department of political science at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, said the loser of the Warren-Brown race would have a significant advantage in a special election to replace Kerry.
“If the race turns out to be as close as it is right now, then yes, they will both have instant name recognition, access to significant amounts of money and fundraising networks,” he said. “It’s more likely that Brown would run for it because there’s a shallow bench for Republicans in the state. Not many Republicans could stake a claim.”
Dan Payne, a Democratic consultant based in Massachusetts, said Brown would have the inside track to winning the GOP nomination in a special election, but that would not necessarily help him beat a Democratic opponent.
“Voters have no sympathy for a losing candidate. [If] you lose, you lose. They’re not shedding any tears for you,” he said.
Kerry is widely believed to be angling to replace Clinton and is considered one of the most qualified candidates. But Kerry’s office adamantly refuses to speculate on the possibility.
“There’s nonstop speculation about a potential vacancy in Massachusetts: Everyone wants to know whether Bobby Valentine will stay or go as Red Sox manager,” quipped Jodi Seth, Kerry’s spokeswoman.
“But believe me, no one but navel-gazers in Washington are speculating and hypothesizing about John Kerry, who is already running for reelection and has the greatest job of his life as senior senator from Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee,” she said.
If Obama chose Kerry, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, would choose a temporary successor and there would be a special election held 145 to 160 days after the seat became vacant.
And, if Kerry’s seat opens up and Warren wins this November, the stage could be set for a replay of the 2010 special election, when Brown took advantage of a crowded and contentious Democratic primary and low voter turnout to win Ted Kennedy’s seat.
“Senate seats don’t open up very often. There would be a real donnybrook, which is one of the reasons Brown won and Coakley lost,” Jim Spencer, a Boston-based Democratic consultant, said of the messy 2009 Democratic primary won by state Attorney General Martha Coakley.
“It very well could be a replay and one of the real problems we have in the state is there’s such a short time between the primary and the general election,” he said of the six weeks between the two contests.
Obama raided the Senate for several of his senior deputies after his 2008 victory, and it almost cost his party two years later.
After Democrats’ landslide victory in 2008, when the party controlled 59 Senate seats, it was easier to be less concerned about future implications of Cabinet appointments. The next cycle will be different.
Kerry himself is up for reelection in 2014. If Warren wins this year and Kerry remains in the Senate, Brown could run against him in two years.
Despite Massachusetts being a solidly Democratic state, it does not have any obvious stars to run for Senate. Political handicappers were skeptical about Democrats posing a convincing challenge to Brown before they recruited Warren.
Patrick, one of the party’s biggest stars, has said he will serve out the remainder of his term, which expires in January 2015, and then head to the private sector. Several Democratic consultants said they do not think he will change his mind.
That would leave an assortment of relatively unknown Democrats available to vie for Kerry’s seat, including Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), who lost to Coakley in the 2009 primary; activist Alan Khazei; Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll; and state Sen. Ben Downing.
Scott Ferson, president of Liberty Square Group, a Democratic consulting firm, said “it’s clear the voters of Massachusetts like Scott Brown.”
But Ferson thinks Brown would be better off running for governor if voters give his seat to Warren.
“We’re not keen on losers,” he said.