It's been a quarter-century since Massachusetts last saw an open-seat race for the U.S. Senate, so speculation over who will vie to replace Sen. Ted Kennedy was raging even before his death. The question of whether the state legislature will comply with Kennedy's dying wish to allow the governor to appoint a replacement until a special election only adds to the drama.
This week, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick set the special election to replace Kennedy for January 19, complying with a state law that requires such elections within roughly six months to fill Senate vacancies. But in a letter to Bay State lawmakers this summer, Kennedy requested that the Democratic-controlled legislature pass a law permitting Patrick to appoint a replacement in the interim.
Patrick, a Democrat, supports the move and is holding a public hearing on the matter on September 9. "The Democrats need every vote they can get in the Senate to pass healthcare, which was Kennedy's signature issue," says Fred Bayles, director of Boston University's Statehouse Program. "So I think they'll pass this."
Either way, the special election for Kennedy's Senate heir is expected to be competitive. (Should Patrick appoint a short-term replacement, the person is expected to forgo a re-election bid, as Kennedy requested.)
Another Kennedy could compete for the seat. Ted Kennedy's widow, Victoria, has told friends she isn't interested, but speculation continues. Former Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy, Ted's nephew, could run, though he's been quiet on the matter.
More than a half-dozen other Bay State Democrats, from current U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch, Edward Markey, and Michael Capuano to former Rep. Martin Meehan, may also compete. Some of them are waiting to see if a Kennedy runs before they decide, while Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley threw her hat in the ring this morning by picking up the nomination papers for a run. The pool of potential Republicans appears to be smaller, but that doesn't mean the seat will remain in Democratic hands. Before Patrick was elected in 2006, Massachusetts had four consecutive Republican governors.