What's going on in Massachusetts?

Will a pro-life, anti-Obamacare insurgent upset the choice of the liberal Democratic establishment for the Senate seat formerly held by Secretary of State John Kerry? Will a centrist Republican win the special election for the Senate from Massachusetts for the second time in three years, giving Republicans 46 seats in the Senate and thus only five away from winning a majority in 2014?

These are just some of the questions that the national press is sure to be speculating about, as the process now begins to fill the seat Kerry has held since 1984. Two days ago, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick named his former chief of staff, William ???Mo??? Cowan, to fill Kerry???s seat until the special election June 25. Cowan, who will be the second black senator for about four months, will not run in the Democratic primary April 30.

Even before Kerry was confirmed, Democratic leaders in Washington and in the Bay State made a determined effort to ???wire??? the nomination of leftist Rep. Ed Markey in the race. At 66 and after 36 years in the House, Markey did not exactly look the part of a ???fresh face??? that both parties desire in their candidates these days. But Markey (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 3.42 percent), best known for his early advocacy of the nuclear freeze, wanted the Senate nomination badly and Democratic chieftains did not want a primary. So he quickly won the blessings of Kerry, the National Democratic Senatorial Committee, and Victoria Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Not so fast, says Rep. Stephen Lynch of South Boston, who announced for the Democratic nomination days ago. Strongly pro-life (he publicly calls his Roman Catholic faith ???my moral compass???), pro-marriage, and opposed to Obamacare, Lynch (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 14.27 percent) is about the closest to a ???conservative??? or ???centrist??? Democrat one can find in Massachusetts. Lynch???s message, quite obviously, will be that he is the outsider fighting the handpicked candidate of the Washington establishment.

???You have to run an insurgent, aggressive campaign, and you???ve got to ignore the establishment, if not run against them,??? longtime Democratic operative Joe Trippi, a veteran Democratic consultant, told the Boston Herald last week. ???If he does that, he has a shot.???

And this is why Republican Scott Brown is smiling. Brown, who won a nationally watched special election for the seat of Ted Kennedy in January of 2010, left the Senate last month following his November defeat at the hands of Democrat Elizabeth Warren. More than a few pundits conclude that had he been running for a full term in a non-presidential year, the moderate Brown (lifetime ACU rating: 62 percent) would have emerged triumphant.

Several polls bear this out, and point to a return to the Senate by Brown. According to a just-completed MassInc Polling Group survey, among likely voters statewide, Brown defeats Markey by a margin of 53 to 31 percent statewide. Against a generic Democrat, Brown leads by a margin of 44 to 36 percent???suggesting that Lynch might be a stronger contender than Markey.

The major statewide races this year will be those for governor in Virginia and New Jersey in November and that for the Senate from Massachusetts in June. No one is making any bets now, but a pretty good one might be that the earliest will be the most intriguing.