Between the Lines: Senate Seat Shuffle

He may have delivered his official Senate farewell speech last week, but Scott Brown continues to give hope to his fans—and heartburn to his critics—that he just might make another run for the office down the road. In a Dec. 12 address on the Senate floor, Brown dropped several hints that he’s not quite ready to call his Senate career over, telling his soon-to-be-former colleagues “we may meet again” and repeating the campaign-night line that had everyone buzzing: “Defeat is temporary.”

Of course, a new Brown campaign, at least in the near future, depends on the fate of rumors that John Kerry, the commonwealth’s senior senator, is heading for a Cabinet position, either as Secretary of State or heading the Defense Department. The former option became distinctly more likely late last week, when President Obama’s first choice to replace outgoing Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, withdrew from consideration, chased out by Republican attacks over her response to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. (At deadline, the White House had not yet announced a new nominee.)

Even if Kerry does leave the Senate, Brown’s return is far from a done deal. Massachusetts Democrats, still smarting over Brown’s winning his Senate seat—aka the Ted Kennedy seat—in the 2010 special election are not about to let him back in without a fight. A number of prominent Democratic names are already in circulation as potential nominees to fill Kerry’s seat, including U.S. Reps. Michael Capuano and Ed Markey and Attorney General Martha Coakley, who might want to avenge her disastrous loss to Brown in that 2010 race. (And in what would be a test of Massachusetts voters’ slavish devotion to all things Kennedy, the late senator’s great-nephew, Joe Kennedy III, is also being talked of as a possible Senate candidate—before he even takes the seat he won in the House of Representatives last month.)

Might Brown even face a competitor from his own party? That thought has been occupying a couple of Boston Globe columnists, at least, who last week laid out argument and counter-argument with regard to former Gov. Bill Weld, who lost a 1996 Senate race to Kerry. Depending on which columnist you prefer, Weld would either “trump the defeated senator in almost every regard. He’s a bigger, better thinker, a larger personality, and a more engaging figure” (Scott Lehigh), or is “ancient political history” whose time as governor was marked by “laziness, hypocrisy, and a state of perpetual bemusement” (Joan Vennochi). In the end, their argument is probably moot; while the camera-friendly Weld no doubt enjoys the attention, he’s told the Globe he would support Brown if the Senate seat comes open.

And then there’s one more potential wrinkle: Gov. Deval Patrick, at least, would like to bypass a special election for a vacant Kerry seat. Instead, the Democratic governor has said he’d like to be able to appoint Kerry’s replacement, should the senator resign, until the next statewide election in 2014.

Massachusetts’ law governing Senate vacancies has been changed several times in recent years, due to partisan maneuvering by Democrats. Prior to 2004, the governor could appoint a new senator until the following statewide election—a practice that struck fear into the hearts of Democrats, who worried that if Kerry, the party’s presidential nominee that year, won, then-Gov. Mitt Romney would name a Republican to fill the Senate seat. So the Democratic state Legislature amended the law, eliminating the governor’s power to appoint a senator and instead leaving the seat vacant until a special election took place—a move that was for naught, given Kerry’s loss to George W. Bush. Five years later, following Kennedy’s death, Statehouse Democrats again tinkered with the law, restoring the right of the governor—now the Democrat Patrick—to appoint a temporary replacement until a special election.

Now, Patrick and Statehouse leaders say there’s no push to change the law again. If one develops, Massachusetts Republicans will spring into action; the state GOP has already warned that it would fight any more Democratic manipulation of the law. Meanwhile, Washington gossip makes it clear how seriously the GOP takes the possibility of an open Kerry seat: one theory has it that Republicans fought Rice’s appointment to the Secretary of State post to open the position to Kerry—and, in the process, open a Senate seat to Brown.e_SBlt

Author: Maureen Turner

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