Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts tapped a former top aide Wednesday to fill John F. Kerry's seat on an interim basis in the Senate and said voters will pick someone to serve out the remainder of the Democrat's term in a special election this summer.
Mr. Patrick, a Democrat, told reporters in Boston on Wednesday that William "Mo" Cowan, his former chief of staff, will serve as the state's interim senator until a June 25 special election.
Mr. Patrick's interim appointment and the special election were announced less than 24 hours after the Senate confirmed Mr. Kerry to be secretary of state, giving Republicans an early chance to cut into the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate. Mr. Kerry's term ends next year, meaning the winner this summer will be back on the ballot.
The selection was a disappointment to former Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat who went public with his interest in the interim appointment, saying the Senate would be working on many of the financial issues he championed during his 16 terms in the House.
Mr. Cowan, a lawyer, will be the second black senator in the chamber, joining Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, and the first black to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate since Republican Edward Brooke lost his re-election race in 1978. It will be the first time in U.S. history that two blacks will be serving at the same time in the Senate.
The race to fill the seat on a more permanent basis is starting to take shape. Rep. Edward J. Markey, first elected in 1976, announced his candidacy in December, and Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, elected in 2001, appears poised to enter into the race next week. Party primaries are set for April 30.
The big question now is whether former Sen. Scott P. Brown, a Republican who lost his seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in the November election, will enter the race. If Mr. Brown runs, it would mark his third campaign in less than four years.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Republican officials close to Mr. Brown said the 53-year-old is "leaning strongly" toward diving into the race. Others, though, doubt Mr. Brown will be a candidate.
"Because of the fact that Brown has not announced yet, I think we are entitled to assume that he will not run," said Dennis Hale, a political science professor at Boston College. Mr. Hale said the political landscape is different from what it was in 2010 when Mr. Brown, an unknown state legislator, scored a stunning upset to capture the seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, thanks in part to support from the tea party movement. This time, Mr. Hale said, Democrats will be careful not to get caught off guard, and Mr. Brown has lost some of his luster among grass-roots conservatives.
"Scott Brown is not the tea party candidate that he was in 2010," Mr. Hale said.
He noted that the moderate Mr. Brown cast some high-profile votes during his two years in the Senate that put him out of favor with tea party activists. "He also may be having some difficulty raising money. He spent a lot of money in his failed election last time, and donors might be reluctant to cough up more because it is probably a long shot."
A Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday found that the race would be a tossup between Mr. Brown and Mr. Markey, who has less statewide name recognition than Mr. Brown. It also showed that Mr. Brown held a 9 percentage point edge over Mr. Lynch.
Speaking at Wednesday's press conference, Mr. Patrick showered Mr. Cowan with praise, saying "he has been a valued ally to me and our work on behalf of the people of the commonwealth."
"In every step, he has brought preparation, perspective, wisdom, sound judgment and clarity of purpose," Mr. Patrick said.
Mr. Cowan, now a lawyer in a private practice, said he has no plans to pursue public office. He said he will focus on the issues that the people of the Bay State care about most: jobs, education and affordable, high-quality health care.
The interim senator was born in North Carolina but obtained his law degree from Northeastern University in the early 1990s and has been in Boston ever since. He is a former partner in the local law firm of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo PC.
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