Senate Special May Begin Wednesday

Posted November 1, 2004 at 6:41pm

If Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) wins the presidential election today, the race to fill his Bay State Senate seat will begin Wednesday.

“Everybody assumes Kerry is going to win and that’s what people are preparing for,” said Matt Vogel, spokesman for Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), one of several potential candidates in a special Senate election, which would be held next spring.

Meehan has raised more than $4 million for his nominally competitive re-election bid, just in case.

“We have full confidence that [Kerry] will [win] and after that, Congressman Meehan intends to run for the seat,” Vogel said.

House Members would not have to sacrifice their seats to run in a spring 2005 Senate election, increasing the likelihood that the field will be large.

Some members of the Bay State’s all-male, all-Democratic Congressional delegation have decided not to wait until Wednesday to begin reaching for higher office.

Reps. Barney Frank and Ed Markey have been running television advertisements on Boston stations, though neither really needs the exposure to overcome his underfunded and underdog challengers.

“Congressman Markey feels that the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear material is one of the most important issues that the country has to face, and what better time [to raise it] than during an election?” said Israel Klein, Markey’s spokesman, explaining his boss’ commercial.

Klein did concede that Markey, like others, has done many things this cycle with one eye toward the possible special election.

“In anticipation, we’ve raised more money than anyone else looking at this opportunity since April 1, and the response in Massachusetts and elsewhere has been very strong for Congressman Markey,” Klein said.

Meehan has the most money in the bank, about $4.2 million, but Markey has slightly outraised him — and everyone else — since Kerry secured the Democratic presidential nomination.

Markey has about $2.7 million in cash on hand, while Frank only has about $300,000 and Rep. Stephen Lynch — who was elected in a special 2001 election to replace the late Rep. Joe Moakley (D) — has saved roughly $500,000.

Rep. William Delahunt has suggested that he too may be interested in a Senate race but he is not considered a definite candidate. Nonetheless, the Quincy native has ramped up his fundraising and sits atop an almost $1.8 million war chest.

While Frank and Markey are on the air, Meehan prefers to wait until Wednesday to get into full campaign mode.

It would be “premature to make decisions about the election before the elections,” Vogel said, adding that Meehan did not air any ads before Election Day.

Rep. Mike Capuano is also up on television, though it is widely assumed that he is testing the waters for a 2006 gubernatorial bid.

Of course, none of this jockeying and speculation would be possible if the Democratic-dominated state Legislature had not recently stripped GOP Gov. Mitt Romney of his power to appoint someone to fill a Senate vacancy. Instead, if Kerry wins, voters will choose his successor within 160 days.

Congressmen are not the only politicians eyeing this race.

Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley (D), who received national attention for successfully prosecuting British au pair Louise Woodward for infanticide, has announced that she will run if Kerry wins today.

Coakley has established an exploratory committee and has begun soliciting donations dated Nov. 3.

“It’s a contingency campaign,” she explained. “I only use it if [Kerry] wins.”

Coakley admits she begins at a significant financial disadvantage but believes she can make up ground quickly.

“I can be competitive,” she said. “I won’t have the $6 million that one of [the Congressmen] has, but I can raise enough to come to the table and be competitive. This is not a race that will go to the top bidder.”

Scott Harshbarger, the state’s former attorney general and unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor in 1998, reportedly is mulling the race. He also spent a stint as president of Common Cause.

On the GOP side, although Romney is frequently mentioned, he has promised to finish his gubernatorial term. So speculation has focused on Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey as the most

likely Republican candidate.

“They really don’t have anybody who’s clearly well-positioned to jump right into the race the way the sitting Congressmen are,” said Robert Keough, editor of CommonWealth magazine, which covers Bay State politics.

Even so, if Kerry wins today, the race to succeed him begins immediately.

“When John Kerry wins, it’s a mad dash to try and line people up,” said one Democratic insider.

“The consensus is that Frank starts out ahead by virtue of name recognition,” he said.

Beyond that, “the scenarios for which part of the Democratic base goes to which candidate is almost mind-numbing,” the source, who did not want to be named, predicted. “Progressives, labor, reformers/clean government-types all have a horse. Anybody who says they can accurately predict in a three-month campaign who’s going to come out on top” is just bragging.

Beyond cash and name recognition, geography is another major factor.

Frank has represented different parts of the state during his 24 years in the House, including the more conservative Southeastern area of the state near New Bedford. Meehan’s and Markey’s 5th and 7th districts, respectively, abut each other in Boston’s northwestern suburbs.

Lynch’s Boston-based 9th district gives him a metropolitan stronghold, while Delahunt has the advantage of representing everything south of Boston down through Cape Cod.

None of the Congressmen has a natural constituency in the central or western part of the state, which will become the area to fight for, the Democratic insider said.

Michael Goldman, a former Massachusetts Democratic consultant who has worked for some of the Congressmen, said it is hard to give one person an advantage over the other.

“Each of these guys owns a 10th of the puzzle,” he said.

The Republican contenders are much harder to know.

“The Republicans don’t want to say anything that even contemplates the possibility that President Bush does not win re-election,” Keough said. “It’s bad form; it looks like dancing on the grave of the top of your ticket. They’re keeping their powder dry mostly out of loyalty.”

Both Keough and Goldman said that Republicans may push former Suffolk County District Attorney Ralph Martin to enter the race. Martin, who is black, won election in a predominately Democratic area more than once.

“He has a lot of appeal,” Keough said. “People have been waiting for him to take the next step, but it’s hard to know if this would be the time that he would jump in.”

Another unknown is U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, Keough said.

The former state Representative and Plymouth County district attorney, like Martin, has not expressed an interest yet, however.

If Kerry loses today, nothing really changes for any of his would-be successors.

“If John Kerry loses, none of those people are going to leave [the House] because a Senate seat didn’t open,” Goldman said. “No harm, no foul.”

“We will sort of continue doing what we are doing; it will be sort of status quo,” Coakley predicted. “We’re all cautiously optimistic that there will be some changes,” however.

As for her political future, and those of other Senate aspirants, Coakley said: “As in every state, there’s a big chess board” and what any politician does depends on what others do.

And should Kerry lose today, “There’s zero chance that Kerry will not run for re-election in 2008,” Goldman predicted. “Coming in second in the presidential race is horrific, but Kerry’s young enough that he would stick it out, he’d stay the course.”

Which would not be the greatest news for those who are dreaming of a special Senate election in 2005.