Therese Murray took over as Senate president in March 2007, which means — under the eight-year limit adopted after William Bulger's two-decade reign — that she would have to step down just two months into the 2015-2016 session. Nobody thinks she'll stay a lowly senator after surrendering the gavel, and it seems implausible that she could run in November 2014 for, in effect, a two-month term.
That means this is probably the last campaign for Murray, after a remarkable 20-year climb to the top of the Senate, where she is among a handful of the most powerful people in Massachusetts.
And there's a good chance she will lose.
Murray is locked in a rematch with Sandwich Selectman Tom Keyes, who took 48 percent of the vote in their 2010 nail-biter, losing by a mere 3600 votes out of 74,000.
It's not supposed to work this way. Typically, Senate presidents and House Speakers come from solidly partisan, safe districts. That leaves them free to serve as lightning rods, protecting other Senate members and assisting their political needs, without worrying about their own reputations back in the home district.
This year, however, the situation is completely inverted. Murray, who represents the increasingly conservative Upper Cape and Plymouth area, is the lone incumbent in trouble, while the other 36 senators seeking re-election — 32 Democrats and four Republicans — all appear to be coasting.
Most Democrats in Boston and beyond assume that she will win comfortably. They are banking on simple electoral mathematics: if Keyes couldn't win in the Republican-tilted 2010 turnout, he doesn't figure to prevail in this year's presidential cycle, in which Democrats are expected to flood the polls, as they did in 2008 and 2004.
People in and around the district say it's not that simple. Many of those extra voters will be coming out for Scott Brown, who romped that area by better than a 60-40 margin in the 2010 special election for US Senate. Brown is expected to win here again, likely by double digits. Even Mitt Romney could carry the district; John McCain got better than 45 percent in 2008.
There just aren't big pockets of Democratic voters in these woody, Outer Cape towns who come out every four years, as there are in other parts of the state.
Murray is certainly taking the threat seriously. So it's a little surprising that others aren't.
It's almost a mass psychological denial of a post-Murray reality. There is no clear successor, and the possibility of starting the next session fighting to choose one — and then operating without Murray's strong guiding hand — leaves many Democratic insiders I talked to muttering and rolling their eyes.