Mass. Attorney General Announces Kennedy Seat Run

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced Wednesday that she will run for Edward Kennedy's Senate seat. Although Coakley is the first politician to publicly declare interest in the seat, several others are considering a run.

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The race is on for the Senate seat of the late Edward Kennedy. Today, the first candidate stepped up and announced a bid. But as NPR's Tovia Smith reports, how many others will join the race may depend on what some of Kennedy's family members decide to do.

TOVIA SMITH: There has been a very deliberate quiet for the past week. Whispers behind the scenes, but publicly no one wanted to be talking about their own political ambition so soon after the senator's passing. On the other hand, with a special election now set for January, ambitious candidates don't want to miss the boat either.

Ms. MARTHA COAKLEY (Attorney General, Massachusetts): I think we all realize that the urgency of this time is clear. Today I announce my candidacy for United States Senate.

(Soundbite of applause)

SMITH: Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley today gave a respectful nod to Senator Kennedy, saying no one can fill his shoes, but she was far from bashful, saying she does want to follow in his footsteps.

Ms. COAKLEY: I'm not Ted Kennedy. I don't pretend to be, I never will be. But I will focus on what strengths I bring to the table. And I'm very anxious and eager to serve Massachusetts. And I think that's what this race will be about.

SMITH: Other possible Senate hopefuls are still keeping mum, including Democratic Congressman Steve Lynch, Ed Markey, Michael Capuano and former Congressman Marty Meehan. There's also buzz around former Red Socks pitcher Curt Schilling, who has been active in Republican politics. Coakley is the only one who's ever been elected statewide, and she comes with decent name recognition and organization, but not as much as another possible contender.

Mr. GEORGE BACHRACH (Political Consultant; Democrat, Former State Senator, Massachusetts ): Joe Kennedy is the 800-pound gorilla and…

SMITH: George Bachrach, former state senator turned political consultant, knows all too well what happens after such a gorilla jumps into the fray. He was one of about 15 candidates running for Congress in 1986, until along came Joe Kennedy, the eldest son of RFK. The field immediately narrowed and those left got clobbered. And that was by a young untested Joe Kennedy. Now, a former six-term congressman and head of a well-known nonprofit fuel assistance program, Bachrach says Kennedy would be a much more formidable candidate.

Mr. BACHRACH: And if Kennedy gets in, clearly, he sucks a lot of the oxygen out of this race. And my sense is now that every day that goes by that Joe Kennedy does not make a definitive statement that he is not running, suggests that he is seriously thinking about it.

SMITH: There has also been speculation about the senator's widow Vicki Reggie Kennedy, but so far she's indicating she's not interested. Either Kennedy would immediately inherit a top notch political organization and would have momentum, public sympathy and money on their side. But Joe Kennedy would also come with his own personal liabilities. He left elected office dogged by questions surrounding his personal life and his temperament, says University of Massachusetts political scientist Lou diNatale.

Mr. LOU DINATALE (Political Scientist, University of Massachusetts): Certainly Joe's had a rocky career as a congressman. He tends to be little bit (unintelligible), you know, a whole series of confrontations here and there, yelling and arguing. And he loses it periodically.

SMITH: In some ways this would be an ideal time for Joe Kennedy to run, as he'd be exposed to a relatively short campaign. But the congressman might also have the option to fill his uncle's seat at least temporarily without having to campaign at all. Lawmakers are debating whether the governor should appoint an interim senator to fill the seat. And most believe that job would be Kennedy's for the asking.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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