With Brown out, Massachusetts GOP scrambles for Senate candidate

Former Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) decision not to run in the upcoming Massachusetts special election has left Republicans scrambling to find a candidate capable of making the race competitive.

But that task has become decidedly more challenging in the past several days, as several of the most prominent second-tier candidates also closed the door on a run.

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Former Gov. Bill Weld (R), who recently moved back to Boston for a private-sector job, on Monday ruled out a bid for the seat left vacant by former Sen. John Kerry (D), now secretary of State.

“While I am grateful for the kind expressions of support and encouragement which I have received, I will not be a candidate for United States Senator from Massachusetts in the special election this year,” Weld said in a statement.

Former GOP House contender Richard Tisei, who narrowly lost his 2012 challenge to Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), took himself out of the running over the weekend.

There were trial balloons floated Monday about two intriguing and high-profile possible candidates — Tagg and Ann Romney, the son and wife of 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. But those rumors barely lasted a news cycle.   

Sources told The Hill that Ann Romney has ruled out a campaign. Tagg Romney had been contacted by Republicans in the state gauging his interest.

But in a statement Monday to the New York Daily News, Tagg said that while “it would be an honor” to serve Massachusetts, he is “currently committed to my business” and family.

“The timing is not right for me, but I am hopeful that the people of Massachusetts will select someone of great integrity, vision, and compassion as our next US Senator,” he said.

Ron Kaufman, a former senior adviser to Mitt Romney, said both Tagg Romney and Ann Romney would be “awesome candidates,” and that they were “honored and flattered” to be receiving the requests.

“I think no one even gave it a thought until (Brown’s announcement) Friday afternoon,” he said.

The Boston Globe reported Monday that former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey decided against a run as well.

That leaves the GOP with a handful of relatively unknown potential candidates.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is meeting with local businessman Gabriel Gomez, who declined to comment about the race when reached at his office by The Hill.

“I can’t really talk about this right now,” he said.

The list of potential GOP contenders is rounded out by a number of state legislators, including state Senate Minority leader Bruce Tarr, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert Hedlund and state Rep. Dan Winslow.

There’s little indication that the Massachusetts Republican Party had a Plan B prepared when it learned last Friday that Brown decided against launching a third Senate bid in as many years.

“You can’t blame this on the party. These are intensely personal decisions,” said former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci (R). 

“When people say, ‘A lot of people have called me up and encouraged me to run,’ that’s not how it works. You have to have the fire in belly.”

Cellucci called Brown’s decision “surprising but understandable.”

An email last Friday from Massachusetts GOP Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes, also a former Brown staffer, indicated she had been caught off-guard at his decision.

“At lunchtime today, I spoke to Senator Brown by telephone. His news was as surprising to me as I’m sure it was to you,” she wrote.

But former Massachusetts GOP Chairman Brian Cresta said that while the initial reaction might have been surprise, the party was working hard to stay optimistic in the aftermath.

“His decision might’ve shocked a lot of people, but I don’t think we’re at a crisis position yet,” Cresta said. “I think we’ve switched from angst and heartache to ‘what are we to do to make this as competitive as possible?’ ”

While Massachusetts Republicans weren’t expressing desperation at the shrinking bench, Cresta said there is “an acute sense of urgency at this point” in the pursuit of a viable candidate.

That’s because any contender has only until Feb. 27 to get the required 10,000 signatures to make it on the ballot — “not an easy thing to do,” Cresta said.

None of the rumored GOP contenders have Brown’s name recognition, fundraising capacity and political organization. 

But “people were saying the same about Scott Brown in 2010” as they are about today’s little-known hopefuls, Cellucci said. 

While any contender’s biggest problem would be money, Kaufman said that whoever wins the nomination will have the full force of Brown’s operation behind them going into the general. 

Like Cellucci, Kaufman also noted that when Brown ran and won in 2010, he was a relative unknown — something that can benefit candidates in a state like Massachusetts where voters tend to prefer fresh faces in statewide races.

“I don’t think that people are discouraged because their ‘big names’ are not in there. Everyone would’ve loved to have Scott Brown run, but it is what it is,” Kaufman said.

He added that Republicans aren’t conceding the race just because their strongest contender is out.

“The best way to win is to want to win,” Kaufman said.

Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch are seeking the Democratic nomination. 

— This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday to remove a reference to Middlesex County district attorney Gerard Leone, who was incorrectly identified as a Republican. He is a Democrat.