MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Now, to Boston. Last month, Senator Kennedy drafted a letter to Massachusetts political leaders. He urged them to change the state's law on filling a vacant Senate seat. His aim, as Fred Thys of member station WBUR reports, was to avoid a prolonged Senate vacancy.
FRED THYS: Under Massachusetts law, voters will choose the successor to Senator Kennedy in a special election in January. But that's too long a wait for many Democrats because Massachusetts would be without what could be a crucial vote as the U.S. Senate debates health insurance reform - Kennedy's lifelong goal. Today, Governor Deval Patrick announced that he supports a change in the law that would give him the authority to appoint an interim successor.
Governor DEVAL PATRICK (Democrat, Massachusetts): When you think about the momentous change-legislation that is pending in the Congress today, Massachusetts needs two voices.
THYS: The legislature is in recess until after Labor Day. The Senate president and the speaker are gauging sentiment towards changing the law. Republicans, who are outnumbered in the legislature, oppose a change. Today, Senate Republican Leader Richard Tisei declined to comment on legislation that would give the governor the power to appoint an interim successor.
Senator RICHARD TISEI (Republican, Massachusetts; Minority Leader): Right now, we should all take a time-out from politics and people really should, you know, take some time to remember Senator Kennedy and really pay tribute to all the work that he did for decades for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
THYS: Last week Tisei pointed out that when Republican Mitt Romney was governor, Democrats passed the law that took the governor's power to appoint a successor away from him. In his letter, Senator Kennedy requested that whoever is appointed to fill his seat make an explicit commitment not to run in the special election that will now be held next January. It's been a quarter century since there was a race for an open Senate seat in Massachusetts, when John Kerry was elected. Among the Democrats considered to have an interest in running are Boston's two congressmen: Mike Capuano and Steven Lynch. Democratic political consultant Dan Payne says Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is also considered a contender.
Mr. DAN PAYNE (Democratic Political Consultant): And there's a lot of pent-up demand in Massachusetts to elect a woman, especially to the United States Senate. And so she'd have that advantage. Money becomes a very big deal in a special election because you have to raise a bundle in a hurry. So anybody who's contemplating this is going to have to think about at least $2-3 million for a short race. And that rules out a fair number of people who might otherwise be interested.
THYS: Congressman Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said today he would not run for the Senate. In the money race, former congressman Marty Meehan, an architect of Campaign Finance Reform, has the advantage. He has $4.8 million in his federal campaign account. Other members of Congress have far less. Senator Kennedy's widow, Vicki, has also been mentioned as a potential candidate. On the Republican side, political consultant Eric Fehrnstrom says in a short race, in a state dominated by Democrats, the most obvious Republican candidates are those wealthy enough to finance their own campaigns.
Mr. ERIC FEHRNSTROM (Political Consultant): One person who will take a look at it is Chris Egan. Chris is a Boston businessman.
THYS: Egan is the son of Richard Egan, the founder of EMC, the large Massachusetts data-storage company. Fehrnstrom predicts that Egan or another fresh Republican candidate will do what Mitt Romney did in his run against Ted Kennedy in 1994: Run and lose, but make a name for himself for the future.
For NPR News, I'm Fred Thys in Boston.