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Secretary of state shake-up sends Massachusetts into Senate scramble

Ambassador Susan Rice's withdrawal from consideration to be secretary of state has thrust U.S. Sen.
File Photo: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick enters Elizabeth Warren headquarters at the Copley Fairmount  Hotel November 6, 2012. (Photo by: Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
File Photo: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick enters Elizabeth Warren headquarters at the Copley Fairmount Hotel November 6, 2012.

Ambassador Susan Rice's withdrawal from consideration to be secretary of state has thrust U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in the spotlight as the most likely frontrunner to succeed Hillary Clinton in Foggy Bottom.

With a Kerry appointment likely, it leaves an immediate vacuum in the Senate, setting off a chain reaction of speculation about who Governor Deval Patrick may choose to fill the potential vacant Senate seat in the run-up to a special election.

The question remains—will Patrick appoint a temporary placeholder as he did in 2009 with the selection of Paul Kirk to warm the bench for the winner of the special election or will he pick a seasoned legislator, ready to campaign and defend the seat at all costs once appointed, creating a powerful incumbent to scare off credible challengers?

"I suspect the Governor will get a lot of pressure from DC not to pick a placeholder but I'd very surprised if he chooses someone who will run for the seat," said a source close to Patrick and familiar with the Governor's thinking.  "Deval is very consistent and the process will be similar to 2009.  He doesn't want to pick someone who will campaign for the job for two years," the Democratic source said.

Among the rumored potential candidates for Kerry's seat are former Senator Paul Kirk, (who accepted the appointment in 2009 through January 2010), former Governor and 1988 presidential Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, and outgoing Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass.  ABC news has reported that the Governor Patrick has also reached out to Victoria Kennedy, the widow of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, about possibly replacing Kerry in the Senate.

The Massachusetts Congressional Delegation includes several members who would like the appointment for themselves but who are also thinking about running for the seat if and when a special election is called.

"The outcome of appointing a placeholder (versus a capable candidate to run for the office) last time was that a Republican won the seat," said veteran Democratic strategist Tad Devine of Scott Brown's victory in 2010.  "Democrats do not want to see a repeat of that," he said.

Representatives Mike Capuano of Somerville, Stephen Lynch of South Boston, and Dean of the Delegation Ed Markey, of Malden, have been mentioned as possible candidates who would seriously consider jumping in the race.

"Markey would be a very strong pick (should the Governor appoint him) or candidate should he decide to run," Devine said.  "He has the experience and the political skills," he said.

Former Congressman Marty Meehan, now chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, is a dark horse candidate for the appointment but nevertheless would make for a credible incumbent.  Meehan is a tested legislator and skillful campaigner who is sitting on a war chest of $5 million in his campaign account—enough funds to scare off any potential challenger.

"Meehan would be an extremely formidable candidate should he decide to run," said the Democratic source.  "He's a dogged campaigner, a dogged fundraiser, and Senate seats don't open up very often in Massachusetts," he said.

Meehan amassed his hefty political bank account before leaving Congress in 2007, and was safely well-funded in 2004 when he, along with his Massachusetts colleagues, jockeyed to succeed Kerry in the Senate in the event that he won his presidential run.

"Marty is Kerry's preferred choice," said one Massachusetts State Committeeman who asked not to be named.  "They are very close."

Meehan visited DC and met with Kerry in his Senate office in mid-November but both men denied any discussion of the Senate seat.  "They have a great relationship and Marty is very qualified," said Devine.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz and Attorney General Martha Coakley are also rumored to be considering campaigns of their own, but are improbable choices to be picked if Patrick opts to appoint a placeholder. Both women are unlikely to give up their current offices to serve temporarily.

Republicans in the Bay State also feel confident about their chances in a potential open-seat race and are preparing for a contest if and when it comes.

"We do much better in special elections," said Ron Kaufman, a Senior Adviser to Mitt Romney's Presidential Campaign.  "Scott [Brown] won his State Senate and U.S. Senate Seats in specials," he said.

Outgoing Senator Scott Brown would be a frontrunner for the GOP by default.  Brown has not ruled out a run for the Senate or a campaign for Governor in 2014.

Bill Weld, the popular former Governor who ran a heated campaign against Kerry in 1996 for the same seat, is also weighing his options.

“I’m very interested in both Massachusetts politics and national politics," Weld told the Boston Globe.  "I feel I can make a contribution," he said.

Former Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey is carefully evaluating the developing political situation in her home state as well.

While Healey has no current plans to run, she said that she is "looking at the race—if it develops—with interest."