Senate shuffle

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 27, 2008

An election to succeed him would take place in this enormous shadow. It would also happen in a hurry. If he were to leave before the end of his term in 2012, there would be as little as three months before a special-election primary. That means potential candidates can’t afford to wait for an announcement to start preparing — and certainly, political observers are not waiting to start speculating and spreading rumors.

A special election
The general agreement among that punditry is that, assuming a special election would be held with just a few months’ preparation before the primary, a Democrat would need to begin with strong name recognition and funding in order to emerge from a crowded field.

That field would likely be quite different than it appeared four years ago, when the possibility of John Kerry becoming president led Senate-covetous pols to size up their chances. At that time, it seemed like half the congressional delegation would run.

Today, that’s no longer the case. Democratic gains in 2006 put the party in control of the US House of Representatives, and this year’s elections are expected to solidify that advantage for years to come.

Massachusetts reps suddenly find themselves sitting pretty where they are. Barney Frank chairs the banking committee, for example. Jim McGovern, by a combination of connections and fortune, finds himself vice- chair of the powerful Rules Committee — waiting to inherit the chairmanship from 78-year-old Louise Slaughter.

Political observers say that US Rep Steve Lynch is the most likely to run for Kennedy’s seat — more than one says flat-out that Lynch is running if there’s a race. One City Hall insider says that people are already projecting a Southie succession of sorts: Lynch becomes senator, Jack Hart wins Lynch’s congressional seat, and Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty takes Hart’s spot in the State Senate.

Some consider Lynch too conservative to win a statewide Democratic primary: although he has been moving leftward on such issues as the Iraq War, he remains firmly pro-life on abortion, for example.

But in a wide-open, multi-candidate race, some suspect that other candidates would split the liberal vote, leaving Lynch to emerge with the nomination.

US Rep Michael Capuano is also considered a possible candidate, although he has become a trusted lieutenant to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. US Rep Ed Markey, with some $4 million in his war chest, would be tempted. Marty Meehan, who left Congress this past year, could take a shot, but it would mean abandoning UMass-Lowell shortly after accepting the top job there.

There are at least three other interesting considerations for the state’s US representatives. First is the timing of the potential campaign. If the Senate election were to coincide with the regular biennial election, they could not simultaneously run for re-election to the House — they would have to jump without the safety net of their old seat if they lose. A special election held at any other time would allow the freedom of running for Senate without that risk.

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