Massachusetts faces special election

The death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) leaves several questions regarding the line of succession for his Senate seat.

Members of the state delegation have been stockpiling money in preparation for a run at the state's first open Senate seat since John Kerry (D) won his post in 1984.

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Massachusetts’s law requires a special election in order to fill a Senate vacancy. That law, instituted when state legislators thought Kerry could win the White House in 2004 and aimed at preventing then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R) from filling the seat with a Republican, could instead draw wealthy congressmen into a race against each other.

The special election must be held between 145 and 160 days after the vacancy occurs. Since Kennedy died late Tuesday, that puts the window between Jan. 17 and Feb. 1. Holding the race on a Tuesday, a traditional Election Day, would mean Jan. 18, Jan. 25 or Feb. 1.

In recent weeks, Kennedy let it be known that he would like for Gov. Deval Patrick (D) to be able to appoint a replacement while the special election plays out. Democratic leaders expressed willingness to push forward with such a proposal, but it would take time to work its way through the state legislative process, which could delay any possible appointment significantly and perhaps make the effort moot.

The fact that Kennedy’s letter on the proposal was leaked publicly suggests that he was unable to get much traction privately, sources say, and that he was hoping public opinion could help his cause.

Election law expert Rick Hasen said the proposal looked like a long shot from the start, and that Kennedy’s absence in pushing for it could now make it less likely.

“Given that fact that the law has recently been changed and was changed for a political reason, I think it would be difficult for Democrats to change it back right now,” Hasen said. “It’s hard for me to believe that momentum is going to pick up now, after his death.”

But Patrick told a local radio station Wednesday that he would support such a change, and state Senate President Therese Murray has reportedly warmed to the idea after giving it a cold reception.

Patrick said he would urge the State Legislature to adopt the change.

“I believe that the senator’s request to permit the governor to appoint someone to serve for that five months until a special election was entirely reasonable,” Patrick told WBUR-FM in Boston. “I think, particularly now, when you think about the momentous change legislation that is pending in the Congress today, Massachusetts needs two voices.”

Just about every member of the state's 10-member all-Democratic congressional delegation has been mentioned as a potential candidate, particularly Reps. Edward Markey, Richard Neal and three others who have already banked more than a million dollars in their House accounts.

Markey, who raised his profile after shepherding climate change legislation through the House this year, has $2.89 million in the bank. Neal, whose district stretches from the Boston suburbs west to Springfield, has $2.5 million in cash reserves.

Rep. John Tierney (D), who holds the northeast corner of the state based around Peabody, has $1.29 million in reserve, and Rep. Michael Capuano (D), whose district includes northern Boston suburbs Cambridge and Lowell, would start a Senate race with $1.2 million. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D) would launch a bid from his south Boston district with $1.39 million.

Former Reps. Marty Meehan and Joe Kennedy, Ted Kennedy's nephew, also have large House accounts and are considered top Democratic contenders, as is state Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Meehan, who left Congress in 2007 to take over as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, nonetheless has $4.8 million left in his congressional account. Joe Kennedy has $1.7 million in the bank.

Coakley has been seen as a potential Senate candidate for some time. When Kerry appeared a strong contender to lead President Barack Obama's State Department, Coakley commissioned a poll testing her chances.

On the Republican side, former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, former U.S. attorney Michael Sullivan and former Ambassador Chris Egan lead the list of potential suitors.

Former governor and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney reportedly has said he is not interested in running for the seat. He challenged Kennedy and lost in 1994.

The special election will be the first exclusively for a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and Republicans are expected to make that a main issue. At the same time, Democrats dominate Massachusetts's politics perhaps more than in any other state, holding all of the commonwealth's seats in Congress and exponential majorities in the State Legislature. That fact renders such a GOP strategy less effective than it would be in other states.

The special election will likely be followed by a May special election in Texas, where Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) is set to resign her seat to run for governor. Her resignation date is still up in the air, and the race could feasibly be held early if Gov. Rick Perry (R) calls an emergency special election, but the time window would have to be significantly sped up in order for it to precede the Massachusetts race.

— This article was posted at 10:15 a.m. and updated at 2:09 p.m.