By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Though it may be hard to see at first, the passing of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts may have a profound impact on 2012's race for the GOP presidential nomination.
Back when Sen. John F. Kerry was his party's presidential nominee, the Massachusetts Legislature—which is overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats—changed the law to require that a special election be held after a vacancy occurs in one of its U.S. Senate seats rather than allow Republican Gov. Mitt Romney to make an appointment if Kerry had won.
The law is still that way today. (As he lay dying, Kennedy asked the state's political leaders, now that a Democrat was the commonwealth's chief executive, to revert to the previous method of picking a replacement.) And that means voters in Massachusetts will go to the polls, unless the law is changed soon, sometime in the next few months to pick a replacement for Kennedy.
Surprisingly enough, this brings things back full circle to Romney, who up to now has been busy laying the groundwork for another presidential bid in 2012. It would be an intriguing thing if, after waiting a day or two out of respect for the late senator, Romney were to downshift and announce he will be a candidate in the upcoming election to fill Kennedy's vacant Senate seat.
Such an announcement would likely be embraced immediately by the Republicans, who would like almost nothing more than to deny Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada his new, hard-won, 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority. As a self-funding candidate who has already been elected once statewide, Romney has nearly 100 percent name ID. And, in an environment where President Obama seems to be dragging the Democrats down, he would be a serious threat to the Democratic hegemony in Massachusetts's congressional delegation. Meaning Romney likely would win.
If he did, Romney would then have a platform to actually introduce legislation modeled on the proposals he put forward as a presidential candidate in 2008 and planned to put forward in 2012. No guesswork. No empty rhetoric. Real ideas, on the Senate floor, that could be evaluated, debated, and perhaps even voted on.
From the Senate floor, Romney could show his fellow Republicans, and the country, just what kind of president he would be. How he would approach national problems. As an added political benefit, it would give him the opportunity to establish true conservative bona fides allowing him to finally overcome the suspicions many conservatives in the GOP's primary electorate still harbor about him. Rather than tie him down, Romney could actually use the Senate seat to lock up the GOP nomination in 2012.