Succeeding Kennedy In Massachusetts; Patrick Backs Law Change : It's All Politics Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) says he's open to changing state law on filling a Senate vacancy. Plus, a short list of potential candidates.
NPR logo Succeeding Kennedy In Massachusetts; Patrick Backs Law Change

Succeeding Kennedy In Massachusetts; Patrick Backs Law Change

The fact that a list of potential successors to Sen. Edward Kennedy surfaced within hours of his death is not as grotesque or insensitive as it sounds.

Yes, his body is still warm. But ever since he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in May of last year, the conversation about his future was never "if," only "when." An imminent Senate vacancy was always staring us in the face, and so discussions about who might replace him were never far from our minds.

Of course, nobody on the list of prospective candidates will comment on the record. Certainly not this soon. But before we get into naming names, an update on where state law stands.

Shortly before his death, Kennedy made clear that he wanted to change how senators are replaced in Massachusetts. Currently, a special election must be held between 145 and 160 days after a vacancy. Kennedy wanted the governor — in this case, Democrat Deval Patrick — to be able to name an interim appointee to serve until the special election, with a promise that he or she won't run for the seat.

Of course, until 2004, governors here could name a successor. But the Democratic state legislature changed it, fearful that if Sen. John Kerry (D), then running for president, won, the choice of succeeding him would then be left to Mitt Romney — a governor who happened to be a Republican. So they decided to take the power of appointment away from the gov and throw it to a special election.

Gov. Patrick said today in an interview with member station WBUR that he supports the law being changed, though nothing can happen until after Labor Day, when the state legislature returns from its break.

So if or until that happens, we are looking at a January special election. Sitting members of Congress will not have to give up their seats to run, so the field could be huge. The last time the state had an open Senate seat was back in 1984, when Paul Tsongas (D) was retiring and John Kerry (D) won it.

Roll Call's Shira Toeplitz has assembled this list of potential Democratic candidates:

State Attorney General Martha Coakley — the sole woman on the list and the only one who has run statewide, but one with less of a "financial advantage" that other candidates possess.

Former Rep. Marty Meehan — now chancellor at the University of Mass. at Lowell, Meehan still has $4.86 million in his campaign account from when he was still in the House.

Former Rep. Joe Kennedy — Bobby's son (Ted's nephew), who left the House in 1998 after serving six terms.

Four sitting members of Congress — Richard Neal, Stephen Lynch, John Tierney and Mike Capuano.

Rep. Ed Markey, who had long been on the list of potential Senate candidates, is apparently "not interested in running" since he chairs a key Energy and Commerce subcommittee. We'll see. Rep. Barney Frank took himself out of consideration today.

There are some Republican names in the mix, but this seat is not going to be won by anyone in the GOP.

For the record, no Republican has succeeded a Democrat in the Senate from Massachusetts since 1946, when former Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. came back from World War II and unseated Democratic incumbent David Walsh.