- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Massachusetts is in a state of mass confusion as the state tries to fill the seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, with a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls jockeying to replace a political legend in a special election while Gov. Deval Patrick’s hopes of naming an interim replacement appear to be fading.

With the field still taking shape, handicappers say it is hard to predict who will emerge to claim the first open Senate seat in the Bay State in a quarter-century.

On the Republican side, several potential contenders were also considering the race, including former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. But one of the best-known potential candidates — Andrew Card, White House chief of staff under President George W. Bush — pulled out of the race Friday.

Gov. Patrick’s attempt to change state law to allow him to pick an interim senator until the special election is held Jan. 19 has run into a wave of opposition from voters, according to a prominent state Democrat who is close to the governor and the state’s legislative leaders.

“Many legislators on balance see this [interim move] as hard to justify and would not like to take this vote and would like to see this go away. The rule was changed a few years ago and to change it again looks like political gamesmanship,” said this Democrat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal legislative business.

“The mail coming into the offices of state senators and representatives is running 4 to 1 against it,” he told The Washington Times.

The Rasmussen polling group also said last week that its latest surveys showed that “support has declined” for a new law to give Mr. Patrick the power to appoint a temporary replacement.

In 2004, Democrats pushed a revised law through the state Legislature that called for a special election in the event of a vacancy, because Democrats did not want Republican Gov. Mitt Romney to appoint a replacement if Massachusetts Democrat Sen. John Kerry won the presidential election. But before he died, Mr. Kennedy asked that the law be changed so that his Senate seat would not be vacant during the final push for national health care reform that he had fought for throughout his career.

Mr. Patrick and Mr. Kerry have argued strenuously that it is in the state’s interest to make such an appointment so that the state would have its full complement of two senators over the next four months, when crucial votes on President Obama’s health care reforms will likely be taken when the bill is brought to the Senate floor.

The health bill will likely require 60 votes in the Senate to end an expected Republican filibuster, and, unless Democrats can win a Republican defection, they could fall one vote short of that goal.

“Common sense profoundly argues to name an interim replacement because it is in the best interests of the people of Massachusetts,” Mr. Kerry said at a hearing in Boston last week to consider changing the law.

In the meantime, the race for the Senate seat began in earnest last week as soon as former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, eldest son of Robert F. Kennedy, announced he would not seek his uncle’s seat, clearing the way for other Democrats who had said they would not run if he became a candidate. Mr. Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, has already signaled she did not want to run for her husband’s seat.

The three Democrats who have announced they are running or have filed nominating papers are state Attorney General Martha Coakley, the current front-runner; and Reps. Michael E. Capuano and Stephen F. Lynch. Two other Democrats mentioned as possible candidates, Rep. John F. Tierney and eight-term Rep. Edward J. Markey, who holds a powerful subcommittee post in the House, has said in recent days they will not run.

“It’s hard to assess a primary until all the players are in or out,” said senior elections analyst Jennifer Duffy at the Cook Political Report.

“Coakley has two major advantages. She is the only candidate to have won statewide and she is the only woman in the field. Her biggest challenge at the moment is fundraising,” Ms. Duffy said.

Mr. Capuano’s advantage is coming from “the most Democratic congressional district in the state and a reliably liberal voting record. The downside is that he is not known much outside his district. Mr. Lynch seems to have more disadvantages than advantages at this point. He has less money in the bank than Mr. Capuano and he tends to be more moderate on social issues like abortion,” she said.

A Rasmussen poll of likely Democratic voters reported last week that Ms. Coakley led the field with 38 percent of the vote, with Mr. Lynch at 11 percent, Mr. Markey with 10 percent and Mr. Capuano at 7 percent

In a heavily Democratic state like Massachusetts, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1, the Republican Party is not given much chance of winning Mr. Kennedy’s seat. The party has been losing seats throughout New England in recent election cycles.

Edward Brooke, who served from 1967 to 1979, was the last Republican elected to the Senate from Massachusetts.

“I don’t think any Republican is going to be particularly competitive for this seat. The overwhelming sentiment of Massachusetts voters will be to elect one of the Democrats and the Democratic field is very strong,” said Boston business executive Steve Grossman, Democratic National Committee chairman during the Clinton administration.

“I think the December 8 party primary will essentially pick the winner. Whoever wins the primary is overwhelmingly likely to be the senator on Jan. 19,” Mr. Grossman said.

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