Democrats wanted Kirk to run again for DNC chair when his term was ending in 1989.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) today named Boston attorney Paul Kirk, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a longtime friend of the Kennedy family, to succeed the late Edward Kennedy in the Senate.
The Massachusetts legislature had been lobbied heavily by Democrats in Washington, who did not want the seat to remain vacant until the Jan. 19 special election. With Kennedy's death, Democrats now have (ostensibly) 59 votes in the Senate, one short of the number needed to beat back a potential Republican filibuster on health-care legislation. So Bay State lawmakers changed the law to give the power of filling a Senate vacancy to the governor.
(It's a power the governor once had ... but the Democratic legislature removed it in 2004, when they didn't want the Republican governor at the time, Mitt Romney, to fill a potential Senate seat in the event John Kerry was elected president.)
There had been much speculation on former Gov. Michael Dukakis, who was endorsed for the job this week by the Boston Globe, or ex-Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy, as potential Patrick picks. But what may have paved the way for Kirk was the behind-the-scenes lobbying on his behalf by Kennedy's two sons, Edward Jr. and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), plus his widow Vicki.
Kirk's ties to Kennedy go back to at least 1969, when he began working for the senator on Capitol Hill. He became chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1985, following the disastrous presidential candidacy of Walter Mondale, who lost 49 out of 50 states to President Reagain in the '84 election. He later co-chaired the Commission on Presidential Debates with Republican Frank Fahrenkopf, himself a former RNC chair. Kirk currently is chairman of the JFK Library in Boston.
In accepting the appointment today, Kirk said he would not seek election to the seat. He is expected to be sworn into office tomorrow.
In a statement, President Obama called Kirk a "distinguished leader, whose long collaboration with Senator Kennedy makes him an excellent, interim choice to carry on his work until the voters make their choice in January."
Rob Jesmer, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was less welcoming:
The Democrats' power play in Massachusetts has nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with politics. With their unpopular government-run health care bill on the brink of failure, Democrats in Washington desperately need another vote in the U.S. Senate, and it is clear that this Administration will stop at nothing to ram it through the Congress. By meddling in the affairs of state politics just weeks after promising to leave it up to the elected Massachusetts officials, Democrat leaders in Washington have demonstrated a willingness to put partisan politics over principle, a far cry from candidate Obama's pledge to change the way business is done in Washington.