Having had some time to let the passing of Ted Kennedy sink in, speculation inevitably turns to who succeeds him (and when). There hasn’t been an open Senate seat in Massachusetts since 1984, so there’s a backlog of long-time Representatives with huge bank accounts all trying to crash the door at the same time… and with a mid-term special election meaning no one would have to give up a safe seat to run, expect a lot of people running.
While Massachusetts currently has a system where there is no gubernatorial appointment but rather a mid-term special election (a result of a legislative change passed in 2004 to prevent Mitt Romney from appointing a Republican successor to John Kerry), there is now a push to update the law to a system more like what is done in Texas: a short-term appointment until the special election can be held. This was suggested by Kennedy himself in a letter released a week prior to his death (which met some initial resistance last week), but with Democrats painfully aware that Kennedy’s absence leaves Senate Democrats at 59 and at least one vote short on a health care reform cloture vote, momentum is building for a quick post-Labor Day vote that would change the law again to allow for the short-term appointment. Governor Deval Patrick said on MSNBC that he would sign such a bill, and state House Speaker Robert DeLeo has given it his tacit approval.
Roll Call suggests that, if this passes, the short-term appointee is unlikely to be someone who would contest the special election. They point to former Governor (and Presidential candidate) Michael Dukakis as a likely appointee; he has already given assurances that he will not run in the special.
The next question is: what’s the timetable on the special election? It doesn’t seem like any changes to the law regarding interim appointment will involve changes to the special election timetable. The Hill calculates:
The special election must be held between 145 and 160 days after the vacancy occurs. Since Kennedy died late Tuesday, that puts the window between Jan. 17 and Feb. 1. Holding the race on a Tuesday, a traditional Election Day, would mean Jan. 18, Jan. 25 or Feb. 1.
So who runs, among the Democrats, in the special? Speculation centers on as many as five of the state’s ten Democratic House members, and two former House members as well.
|Joe Kennedy II
One high-profile House member who has already indicated that he won’t run is Barney Frank. The 69-year-old Frank is at the pinnacle of his power as House Financial Services Chair. Ed Markey is a something of a question mark; he’s also one of the most powerful House members, as a 33-year veteran and chair of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, making it less likely he’d be willing to give up his gavel… but there’s also no question he’s been stockpiling money for this very contingency for many years.
The remaining members of the House delegation are 72-year-old John Olver (considered a likely retiree soon), 68-year-old Bill Delahunt, 63-year-old Niki Tsongas (who just got to the House), and 49-year-old Jim McGovern. McGovern, based in Worcester’s MA-03, is sitting only only $536K, which apparently isn’t enough for prognosticators to consider him a likely candidate.
Former Reps Meehan and Kennedy are also question marks. Meehan has by far the most money of anyone, and has been sitting on it in miserly fashion since leaving the House to become chancellor of UMass-Lowell. Although he’s reportedly happily ensconced in his new job, his hunger for a Senate seat while still in the House was palpable, and the fact that he’s still hoarding his cash is a red flag. Kennedy has a huge intangible advantage, perhaps a field-clearing one, in that, well, he’s a Kennedy, and there’s understandable sentiment about keeping at least one Kennedy in the Senate. Kennedy, however, has been out of office for a while, and a subsequent ugly divorce and controversy of Venezuelan oil deals may cast a bit of a shadow over him. (Plus, more generally, the Kennedy name may not have the iconic power it used to, as seen in the Caroline Kennedy and Chris Kennedy flameouts this year, as well as the 2002 loss of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.)
There are two other non-House, female candidates who could make the race. One is Kennedy’s widow, Vicki Kennedy, who hasn’t held office but could be a sentimental favorite; however, indications are that she isn’t interested in running (although she could be another possible short-term appointee). The other is AG Martha Coakley, who has had her eye on the Senate seat for some time, polling the race several times. While she doesn’t have a big stash of federal dollars like the other candidates (she has only $144K), she would bring something of a demographic advantage to the race by being the only woman, as well as the only statewide official. Coakley has been quick to hit cable TV in the last couple days.
There must be some Republicans to run, right? What passes for GOP top talent in the Bay State (Christy Mihos, Charlie Baker) is already looking at the Governor’s race, where they’ve been historically more successful and where Patrick is unpopular. That leaves former Lt. Gov. (and 2006 gubernatorial loser) Kerry Healey, former US Attorney Michael Sullivan, former Ambassador Chris Egan, state Senator Scott Brown, former Justice Dept. official Wayne Budd, and businessman David Sukoff as GOPers who’ve been mentioned. Former Bush CoS Andy Card, and Jim Ogonowski, who ran well in the MA-05 special election, are reportedly not interested.
There’s one other name being floated: former Governor Mitt Romney. To most observers, that’s comical, considering that Romney a) is busy running for President, and won’t want to get involved in the relatively small ball time-suck of the Senate, and b) didn’t run for re-election as Massachusetts Governor because he would have had his ass handed to him, after veering to the right in order to prep for his Prez run and repeatedly dissing his own state while doing so. US News’s delusional Peter Roff still sounds hopeful, saying that the fact that being in the Senate would help Romney prove his conservative bona fides — but offering no evidence for Romney’s electability in Massachusetts other than his 100% name ID.
Meanwhile, there’s one other entirely separate game of musical chairs: Senate committee assignments. Kennedy was chair of Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (or HELP), one of the two key Senate committees on health care reform. The acting chair of HELP while Kennedy was out has been Chris Dodd, who has been doing double-duty while also chairing Banking. The ball’s basically in Dodd’s court now: whether he wants to switch full-time to HELP, or go back to Banking. This actually impacts his re-election strategy, interestingly: does he go to HELP, and focus on building accomplishments there in order to distract from lingering dissatisfaction (not necessarily deserved, but either way, the perception is there, especially regarding the AIG bonuses) from his tenure at Banking? Or does he go back to Banking in order to show his constituents he’s focused on cleaning up the mess there? (State Sen. Sam Caligiuri, one of his minor GOP contenders, is already jumping on Dodd over possibly moving to HELP.)
So, if Dodd moves to HELP, that means Tim Johnson of South Dakota takes over Banking. However, the moderate Johnson is still slowed by his brain hemmorhage from several years past, and has been a low-key participant since then; he might defer to the 3rd in line, the much more liberal Jack Reed of Rhode Island, which would certainly improve our chances of robust re-regulation of Wall Street in the coming year.
On the other hand, if Dodd stays at Banking, Tom Harkin is 2nd in line at HELP. While Harkin certainly has had a stake in such issues, he may prefer to remain as chair of Agriculture, the defining issue in his state of Iowa. Either way, we’d then likely get the only female committee chair: if Harkin stays at Agriculture, 3rd in line to chair HELP would be Barbara Mikulski. If Harkin moves to HELP, the Ag order then goes Patrick Leahy (chair of Judiciary), Kent Conrad (chair of Budget), and Max Baucus (chair of Finance). It’s hard to see any of them wanting to give up those gavels, so next in line to lead Agriculture would be Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln — which might give her something valuable to honk her horn about as she faces a potentially difficult re-election.
UPDATE (James L.): This shouldn’t be considered a surprise to anyone with their head properly screwed on, but Mittens says that he won’t run for Teddy’s seat.