Recent changes in legislative leadership are also helping fuel a renewed willingness to run for other offices among veteran officeholders who are not in the good graces of Senate President Therese Murray or Speaker Robert DeLeo.
Some observers suggest another contributing factor: a dispersal of political power in the state, which makes it unlikely, they say, for one "establishment" candidate to scare everyone else off — as Reilly proved in 2006.
Today there are pockets of power — including Patrick, Kerry, Coakley, Murray, and others — who are likely to back opposing candidates. That's already in evidence in the treasurer's race, in which Democratic Party insider Steve Grossman and Norfolk Treasurer Joseph Connolly both have plenty of support.
As the dominos fall down the line, we'll get to see the demarcations of power in the state's regional pockets.
For example, in Norfolk County — which includes Quincy and other political hotbeds — it looks like there may soon be open races for DA, treasurer, at least one state senator, and possibly several state representatives. Worcester, Springfield, Bristol County, and other spots may see similar confluences, some of which will pit old power circles against newer players.
One factor does not seem to have changed in the current political landscape: the irrelevance of the Republicans. Amazingly, the state GOP may actually do even worse in 2010, despite the plethora of open seats, a miserable economy, and a string of recent scandals involving Democrats.
Thus far, Republicans have not found a 2010 candidate considered competitive for any of the statewide offices other than governor, or any congressional seats. Nor have they put forward a single State Senate candidate who has Democrats worried.
In fact, Democrats are optimistic they might take at least one of the five remaining Republican-held Senate seats: those of Richard Tisei, who is running for lieutenant governor, and Scott Brown, who — assuming he is not the next US senator — is rumored to be considering a statewide run.
Although Democrats aren't worried about threats from the outside, they're expecting a battle royale within the party. The state convention, scheduled for Worcester in June, could be a doozy.
The year's action is expected to be so much more intense than usual, the Massachusetts Democratic Party has had to come up with a new system to track all the races and candidates, says its executive director, Stacey Monahan.
Monahan has had a wall in her office redone in magnetic paint as a chart for all the possible races, and is affixing labels with candidate names on little magnets that can be moved around as people declare their intentions.
"There are openings or potential openings where people have held the seats for decades," says Monahan. As the established pols vacate their roles, "city councilors and school-committee members will be looking at opportunities."
Of course, it could turn out that many, or most, of the officeholders rumored to leave may stick with what they have — stopping the dominos from falling any further.
We may instead see more candidates who don't hold elected office at all — like Grossman, Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, and recent Senate candidates Alan Khazei and Steve Pagliuca.