Eyeing Sen. Scott Brown in 2012, Mass. Democrats building up war chests

Democrats in Massachusetts are building up their campaign war chests for a possible showdown with Sen. Scott Brown (R) in 2012.

While it is too early to tell who will seek to challenge Brown, more than a few Democrats have more than $1 million cash on hand to give them a running start.

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The first Republican senator elected in the commonwealth of Massachusetts since 1972 will be a major Democratic target in the next election cycle. The Democratic challenger to Brown in 2012 could receive a major boost from President Obama, who will presumably be running for a second term. Obama won the state in the 2008 presidential contest by 26 percentage points.

Former Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) has almost $4.9 million cash on hand, and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) has $3.3 million, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) has $1.5 million, and Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) has $1.3 million. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), who was defeated by Martha Coakley in the 2009 Senate Democratic primary, has only $15,000 on hand.

Brown has also been busy raising funds, amassing more than $6 million in his war chest.

Possible challengers to Brown are remaining mum on their 2012 plans.

Markey “is focused on his reelection,” said spokesman Jeff Duncan.

Markey raised more than $400,000 this year alone, even though the commonwealth’s longest-serving House member is expected to easily win his 18th term in November.

Some say Markey’s safe seat may be one reason to bet against him jumping into a Senate contest against Brown.

Markey has served in the House since 1976, and his seniority and close ties to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have earned him the chairmanship of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warning.

“I would discount Markey,” said political scientist Ross Baker of Rutgers University. “He has enormous seniority and he runs a major committee which is a real money magnet for the state. It’s always a quandary for a long-serving, senior, well-financed House member to risk the indignity of being a lowly Senate freshman with lowly committee assignments, with a larger, more diverse constituency.”

Markey passed up the chance to run for Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) old seat last year, though he had indicated in 2004 — when House Democrats were in the minority — that he was poised to run for the upper chamber if Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won the White House.

It is unclear if Markey’s committee will be reauthorized next year, though it appears likely if Democrats retain the House. Should the GOP win control of the House, the chances of a Markey Senate bid would increase.

Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has previously eyed a run for the Senate, but now has the gavel of one of the most powerful panels in Congress.

“My bet would be on Tierney or Capuano, someone who is less senior,” said Baker. “They have less to lose by making a run. I can’t read their minds, but I’m sure they feel Brown was elected under quirky circumstances and ordinarily wouldn’t have won.”

Kennedy's widow, Vicki Kennedy, recently suggested to The Boston Globe that she would not run in 2012, but did not completely rule out a bid.

Meehan has been out of Congress for three years, serving as chancellor at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. His fundraising has been largely dormant this year.

Meehan did not comment for this article.

“Meehan should be kept in mind,” said Richard Park, a senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. “He’s someone who has always been a speculative figure in races like this.”

Lynch and Capuano would face uphill climbs in securing the Democratic nomination, according to Parker.

Parker said, “Capuano seems the toughest fighter, but he couldn’t take down Coakley.

“Lynch has never caught on statewide — he’s a conservative Democrat, and that’s not enough to differentiate himself from Scott Brown,” Parker added. “He would cast himself as an independent Democrat like Brown would cast himself as an independent Republican. I don’t see him as viable."

Despite intense lobbying from the White House and prominent Democrats, Lynch opposed the final healthcare reform bill. AFL-CIO officials have said they will not forget his "no" vote.

Brown mounted a come-from-behind victory that denied Democrats their filibuster-proof, 60-seat majority in January. Brown, who served six years in the state House and another six in the state Senate, seemed a long shot until a couple weeks before he captured 52 percent of the vote.

Republicans believe Brown can win reelection, noting that the political winds in Massachusetts have shifted dramatically since 2008.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), a close ally of the president, is engaged in a challenging reelection race. While Patrick is favored to win, polls show him with only single-digit leads over Republican Charles Baker.

Brown voted against healthcare reform and opposed the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan, but he has broken with his party leaders on a Democratic jobs bill as well as Wall Street reform.

“He’s played a canny game. He understood immediately that if he was looked at as the Tea Party darling, he would be unable to hold on to that seat,” said Baker.

“What he’s done has been to calculate the offset. By the time he’s up [for reelection], he may well have established a kind of rapport with the voters. He seems very resourceful and canny enough politically to know he’s not [Sen.] Jim DeMint [R-S.C.] and he’s not going to be Jim DeMint. I imagine as strict as [GOP Leader Mitch] McConnell [Ky.] has been, they’ll continue to cut him some slack.”