Will Another Kennedy Replace Teddy in the Senate?

Last week came the surprising letter from Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) urging Democratic leaders in the Massachusetts legislature to change state law and permit the governor to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate when and if it arises. Calling for a reversal of the law that Democratic legislators passed in ’04 (when they took that very power to appoint from then-Republican Gov. Mitt Romney and mandated a “snap election” in five months) the ailing Kennedy appeared to recognize his own mortality.

What has followed is an onslaught of press speculation of what will happen in the likelihood that Massachusetts holds a special Senate race soon. As David Bernstein wrote in the Boston Phoenix following publication of Kennedy’s letter: “Finally, Ted Kennedy gives us all permission to talk openly about the thing everybody has been talking about privately: succession.”

So as the talk grows louder about what will happen next to the seat Kennedy has held since 1962 (held previously by brother John from 1952 until he became President), here are some answers to the questions most frequently asked:

Will There Be Another Sen. Kennedy?

Almost certainly, no. Not in this seat, at least, its history notwithstanding. Sources close to the ailing senator told the Boston Globe that his wife, Louisiana-born Victoria Kennedy, is not interested in either appointment or running in a special election. As one Kennedy confidant told the Globe last week, “Her focus is her husband and her family. To her, there is only one Senator Kennedy.” Ted’s younger son Patrick is, of course, a Democratic House Member from Rhode Island and neither of his other children, Ted, Jr. or Kara, have shown an interest in seeking office. Joseph Kennedy, Ted’s nephew and a former House Member from the Bay State, could run but betting is strong against it among Democratic pols. Joe has been out of politics for well over a decade and seems devoted to his business providing cheap oil in partnership with Venezuelan President for Life Hugo Chavez. A political resurrection in his late 50’s appears very remote–particularly when it will raise all kinds of questions about Joe Kennedy’s ties to Chavez.

So What Democrats Would Run for the Seat?

Just about all of them. Any elected Democrat in Massachusetts must be considered a contender because of the nature of the law. A special election is required in five months, not at the next scheduled election (as was the case before the present law was enacted in ’04). Thus, House Members and state officials and legislators all get a “free ride” in a “snap” election because they don’t have to give up their offices.

The most-oft-mentioned Democratic hopeful is arch-liberal State Attorney General Martha Coakley. She, in fact, has a “shadow” campaign operation in wait for the word on a special election. Call her a cinch to run and the probable front-runner. Also sure to run is Rep. Steve Lynch (“110% in,” reports the Phoenix). And don’t count out most of the other Democratic House Members: Mike Capuano, Ed Markey, Jim McGovern, and Bill Delahunt, left-of-center Democrats all. Despite all the clout he wields as chairman of the House Banking Committee, it appears that fifteen-term Rep. Barney Frank would be interested in a Senate race.

Do Republicans Have a Chance?

In a special election, you bet. And if Democrats are going to wage a political holy war, whoever emerges as the nominee is unlikely to recover fully from the wounds inflicted in a primary for a special election a few months later. Decorated veteran and ’06 Senate nominee Jeff Beatty, who waged a lonely and valiant race against John Kerry, could well run. So could former lieutenant governor and ’06 gubernatorial nominee Kerry Healy. She is a liberal GOPer, Beatty a conservative.

Michael Sullivan, former US Attorney, is also mentioned. One intriguing possibility is Chris Egan, president of Carruth Capital and son of former US Ambassador to Ireland (also the co-founder of the EMC Corporation) Richard Egan. Young Egan has become increasingly active in state party activities and would have little difficulty raising money.

One name that invokes tremendous sentiment in the state GOP is that of businessman and former State Party Chairman Jim Rappaport. Many fondly remember his strong race against Kerry back in 1990 and how he used his business acumen to put the party back on its feet during its dark days in 1990. There was considerable disappointment in the grassroots when ’02 gubernatorial nominee Mitt Romney passed over Rappaport for Healy for the lieutenant governor nod. Now 53 and busy with a variety of business ventures, Jim Rappaport does little to promote himself politically. But his name still comes up.

Will They Give Gov. Patrick Appointment Power?

Almost certainly not, even after Kennedy’s letter. The Boston Globe recently conceded the nervousness of lawmakers about being perceived as “self-serving” should they change the law again after five years. And then there is the case of politics. Do legislators want to give Gov. Deval Patrick the power to make a senator out of another Democrat who is not their guy or gal? In addition, as the Boston Phoenix’s Bernstein put it, “[N]ot so many in the lege trust Deval these days.”

The argument Coakley supporters make is that a special election would be a waste of tax dollars in cash-strapped Massachusetts. So why not simply change the law back to what it was before 2004–no “snap” election but one held instead at the next scheduled election in 2010 (when it will cost nothing)? This is what happened when JFK resigned his seat and his Harvard classmate Ben Smith was appointed to the seat until Ted reached the constitutionally-set age of 30 and was able to run in 1962.

Times have changed. JFK and his father Joe were able to keep all Democratic heavyweights save one (then-State Attorney General Edward McCormack) out of the Senate race to clear the field for Ted, who easily beat McCormack for nomination. No Democrat wants the field cleared for anyone these days and House Members in particular would be terrified about an election in November when they would have to give up their seats to run. Better to “run from cover” in a special election, they almost certainly agree.

The law won’t change. If there is a special election, it will come soon after a vacancy.