Now that President Obama has nominated John Kerry for Secretary of State, Kerry's Massachusetts Senate seat--assuming his confirmation--will be vacated, and the scramble for a replacement will begin.
On the Republican side, former Sen. Scott Brown--who lost his own seat to Elizabeth Warren in November--looks to be the frontrunner. As of Friday, Brown hasn't expressed any formal interest in the open seat, but a recent poll by WBUR's MassINC Polling Group shows that he would have an advantage over a number potential Democratic candidates.
As the New York Times reminds us, "Polls conducted this early in an election cycle are often tests of name recognition as much as anything and need to be evaluated carefully for that reason. But in Mr. Brown’s case, it is not just that Massachusetts voters know him: they also like him. In the poll, 58 percent of voters said they had a favorable view of Mr. Brown, and 28 percent an unfavorable one."
Prospects on the Democratic side are a bit muddier. Several viable candidates have hinted at a run, including the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's widow, Victoria Kennedy, and his son, Ted Kennedy Jr. Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey has said he's seriously considering going for the empty seat, and Reps. Steven Lynch and Michael Capuano have expressed interest as well.
Even actor/director Ben Affleck didn't rule out the possibility when asked this week during a visit to Capitol Hill. Affleck was testifying before the House Armed Services Committee about the crisis in Congo and was photographed alongside Sen. Kerry. “One never knows. I’m not one to get into conjecture,” Affleck said to CBS's Bob Scheiffer, who broached the subject during an interview for Face the Nation.
With this many possible candidates, the Democratic primary may become nasty, which could work to the advantage of Scott Brown. Brown lost to Warren by a seven point margin last month, but this was after a grueling, 14-month campaign under the harsh blue light of Massachusetts politics. The special election would be significantly shorter, with more preparation time for Brown if he clinches the nomination early while the Dems battle it out. It's important to note also that, in his defeat, Brown still came out of the November election with a 60 percent favorability rating, according to an CNN exit poll.
A number of GOP senators, including Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), have or plan to approach Brown to run again. At the moment, Brown is dealing with the passing of his father, which happened on Thursday.
If Kerry is confirmed, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick will appoint an interim successor to fill the role until the special election. According to state law, Patrick has to hold the special election between 145 and 160 days after Kerry files for resignation. When Edward Kennedy passed away, Patrick appointed someone for the interim who vowed not to run for the seat; he hopes to follow the same model again.