There just might be a free-for-all in Massachusetts after all.
Former Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) announced Monday that he will not run for his uncle’s Senate seat in the upcoming special election, and his exit paves the way for many would-be candidates to enter the race.
Most Massachusetts Democrats were publicly deferential to the Kennedy family in the aftermath of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) death last month, both out of respect and because of the political reality of running against a Kennedy in Massachusetts.
Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, reportedly has no interest in the seat. That and Joe Kennedy’s announcement take the two leading potential Kennedy candidates out of the running. No other Kennedy appears poised to run for the seat.
Joe Kennedy, the son of Robert Kennedy, said in a statement that he felt his mission could better be fulfilled where he now serves, at a company that provides heating to low-income families.
“My father called politics an honorable profession, and I have profound respect for those who choose to advance the causes of social and economic justice in elective office,” he said. “After much consideration, I have decided that the best way for me to contribute to those causes is by continuing my work at Citizens Energy Corp.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) was the first candidate in the race and openly flaunted her disregard for the Kennedy claim on the seat. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) also recently asserted that he would run regardless of the Kennedy family’s plans.
But Reps. Edward Markey, Michael Capuano and John Tierney and former Rep. Marty Meehan have all been more deferential, either saying they wouldn’t run against a Kennedy or saying they would wait on the Kennedys’ decisions.
The entry of those four men would immediately pump more than $10 million into the race, as that is the combined total of their House campaign accounts.
Other members of the state’s 10-member all-Democratic delegation have been quiet about the race, but Kennedy’s exit could lure some of them to give the race another look. They have virtually nothing to lose, since they don’t have to yield their congressional seats to run.
Other Democrats could also become interested, especially if several members of Congress enter the race and dilute the field so that there is no clear favorite.
Either way, they need to decide quickly. The special election is set for Jan. 19, with an all-important Dec. 8 primary.
On the Republican side, state Sen. Scott Brown and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan are both weighing their options. Former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, the party’s 2006 gubernatorial nominee, announced Sunday that she would not run for the seat.
Joe Kennedy’s family ties would have made him the favorite for his uncle’s seat, but he wasn’t without his liabilities. Chief among them was the fact that Citizens Energy Corp. accepted fuel donations from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
The connection was the subject of a Boston Globe story over the weekend, and Kennedy’s mention of the company in his statement suggests he was well-aware of the chatter.
The Senate seat at stake was formerly held by President John Kennedy, with a placeholder occupying it before brother Ted was old enough to run for it in 1962.
Joe Kennedy becomes the third member of the extended family to flirt with the Senate this cycle, only to back off.
Brother Chris Kennedy seemed a sure bet for Illinois’s open Senate race at one point but opted to stay in private life. And cousin Caroline Kennedy, the former president’s daughter, actively pursued a Senate appointment in New York when Hillary Rodham Clinton became secretary of State.
Now it appears the Senate will be without a Kennedy for an extended period of time for the first time since the early 1950s.