As word circulated on Thursday, December 13, that Susan Rice was withdrawing her name from consideration for secretary of state, it was like a 2013 starting gun going off in Massachusetts.
Sure enough, the following Friday, President Barack Obama announced that he would nominate Senator John Kerry for the position, succeeding Hillary Clinton. If he's confirmed, a special election for Kerry's seat will take place next year, with a primary likely in April or May, and a final election in June or July.
You might think that recent history would warn pundits like me against attempting to predict what will happen in a Massachusetts Senate race. But let's forget the poor track record, and try to prognosticate how everything will play out this time.
State law on US Senate openings was changed for political purposes in 2004 (when Kerry was running for president) and again in 2009 (after Ted Kennedy died); why not a third time?
Deval Patrick has indicated that he would love to change the law again, eliminating the special election, so that his appointee serves through 2014. Some DC Democrats, worried about Scott Brown winning his way back to DC, approve of the idea.
But there is no interest in it among state legislators, so I say: there will be no rewrite of the law.
In 2009, Patrick declared that, to temporarily fill Kennedy's Senate seat, he would nominate someone who vowed not to run in the subsequent special election. This time, some Democrats want Patrick to turn the appointment into an anointment.
Actually, from what I hear, the "some Democrats" who want that are mostly congressmen Ed Markey and Mike Capuano, who each want to be chosen.
I don't see how that brings anything but grief to Patrick, so I predict he will again choose an explicit placeholder — someone dependable, but safe.
I'm not convinced it's as certain as some think that Brown will run. He's sent strong signals that he's not done with politics, but he'll need to run some polls to decide whether he can realistically hope to reverse his 2012 eight-point loss — not just in a special election, but again in 2014.
If not Brown, there are other intriguing potential Republican candidates. But I predict they will all be forced to the sidelines by an ambitious and delusional Bill Weld.
The early word among Democratic insiders is that only four pols are preparing to run: Capuano, Markey, Congressman Steve Lynch, and State Senator Ben Downing.
Markey would be the frontrunner, with $3 million in the bank and a substantial following. But veteran political insiders who have seen Markey pass up races before — dating back to 1984, when he bailed out of the Senate race won by Kerry — are skeptical he'll run.
Capuano, who finished a distant second in the 2009 special primary, could have trouble again connecting beyond his Boston-area base. And Lynch, although he has won back some of the unions who abandoned his aborted '09 run, will still have some appeal as a pro-life candidate in a Massachusetts Democratic primary.
It's not crazy to imagine Downing, of Pittsfield, sneaking into contention. He could have Central and Western Massachusetts to himself, and he would be the fresh face against the entrenched Washington crew.
But I'm going to guess that Markey runs, and wins the primary.
THE NEW SENATOR
Somehow my crystal ball has given me a choice between a 67-year-old (Weld) and a 66-year-old (Markey), neither of whom has been in a competitive campaign in ages. I'll take Markey over Weld — but it would be the first time I'm right about a Massachusetts Senate seat in a long time.
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