Representative Pacheco, an ambitious young progressive who overcame abuse at the hands of his father, could also compete for the insurgent's mantle. Cumberland's Mayor McKee, a politically savvy centrist, has been the public face of a new kind of charter school known as a "mayoral academy" and would play the role of innovator.
Nicholas Pell, an investment banker in New York, could draw on the popularity of his late grandfather, Senator Claiborne Pell. And Representative Brien, who may be too conservative for the district, can nonetheless claim a substantial base in Woonsocket.
But all of these would-be contenders face substantial hurdles, not the least of which is the challenge of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in a hurry.
Republican candidate John J. Loughlin II has made a relatively strong showing, to date, on the fundraising front. And he has built a tidy little file of press clippings. But the money and media attention owe almost everything to his erstwhile opponent: Patrick J. Kennedy.
Kennedy's departure makes it far more difficult to raise money from conservative activists around the country. And it virtually guarantees the spotlight will be on the Democrats up through Rhode Island's unusually late primaries in September.
Then, of course, there is the prospect that ambitious Republicans, enticed by an open seat race in a politically volatile year, will create a GOP primary where none existed before.
GOP party chairman Giovanni Cicione insists the landscape has improved for Republicans. An open seat, he says, always makes for an easier challenge. But this race may be the exception that proves the rule.
Whoever wins the Congressional contest, the race is bound to have a far-reaching impact on Rhode Island politics. Cicilline's imminent departure from City Hall had a dozen or more elected officials and ex-pols seriously weighing a mayoral run as the Phoenix went to press.
Among the notables: York, former Mayor Joseph R. Paolino, Jr., House Finance Committee Chairman Steven Costantino, a slew of City Councilmen, and a pair of potential candidates — lawyer Taveras and state Senator Juan Pichardo — who could herald the full arrival of Latino political power in Providence.
The mayoral race will, of course, have a ripple effect on the City Council — creating a series of openings on the panel and reshaping an already intriguing battle for the council presidency.
And Lynch's departure launched a campaign for the party chairmanship, which will ultimately be settled in Speaker Fox's office. Among the names in circulation: activist and blogger Matt Jerzyk, labor official and former state Senator Paul Moura, and Democratic operative Jeffrey Padwa.
Jerzyk and Moura both present problems for a new Speaker attempting to appease all wings of the party and rebuild a battered Democratic brand. Jerzyk is closely identified with the left. And Moura's union role could be trouble for a party constantly beating back charges that it is beholden to organized labor. So Padwa, though not terribly close to Fox, is considered the favorite at the moment.
The speaker will also have to find new staff for the party, with erstwhile executive director Tim Grilo leaving his post to manage Lynch's campaign and staffer Ray Sullivan, a state representative, taking a job with Congressman Langevin.
The vacancies provide Fox, a pragmatic liberal, with a chance to put his stamp on the party's politics and — just as important — its tactics: Rhode Island Democrats need to beef up their use of social media and other tools of the new politics.
But all that will come in time. The first task for the new leadership: settling a party in the throes of an ecstatic, once-in-a-decade upheaval.
David Scharfenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.