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January Special Election Likely in Massachusetts

It will be several months before the voters of Massachusetts pick a successor to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), however many local elected officials have been waiting in the wings for decades to run for a Bay State Senate seat.

Kennedy’s death creates the first open Senate seat in Massachusetts since 1984, when Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won his first term in office. Under state law, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick must call for a special election to be held 145 to 160 days from Wednesday, which means the contest will be held sometime in mid-January. The new Senator elected then will serve the remainder of Kennedy’s term, which runs through 2012.

Although any potential Senate candidates were mum Wednesday morning in deference to Kennedy, the lure of running for the seat and fulfilling the liberal lion’s legacy might be tempting for several Bay State Members, who do not have to give up their House seats to run in the special. Local observers agree that the special election is likely to be a free-for-all for Democratic candidates looking to take their first shot at statewide federal office.

State Attorney General Martha Coakley (D), who has expressed interest in the past about running for Senate, is the only potential candidate who already has won statewide office. However, Coakley would not start out with the same financial advantage as several Members of Congress, who have large federal campaign accounts.

Former Rep. Marty Meehan (D) left Congress in the middle of his eighth term in 2007 to be chancellor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Meehan still has $4.86 million in his campaign account from his tenure in Congress — significant funds that could be used for a Senate race, which will likely be costly and competitive.

Rep. Ed Markey (D), now in his 18th term in Congress, reported having $2.89 million in his campaign account. Markey, however, chairs a powerful Energy and Commerce subcommittee and will likely not be interested in running.

Former Rep. Joe Kennedy (D), the Senator’s nephew who stepped down in 1998 after serving six terms, also reported having a large campaign account at the end of June: $1.77 million. And Kennedy would not be the only candidate who could benefit from his name: Edward Kennedy’s widow, Vicki Kennedy, could also run for the seat, although she has not shown any public interest in mounting her own campaign.

Rep. Richard Neal (D) reported having $2.53 million in his campaign bank account at the end of June. Many local Democrats have believed for some time that he would run for a Senate seat when it became available. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D), another likely candidate in the special election, reported having $1.39 million in his campaign account at the end of June.

Rep. John Tierney (D) reported having $1.29 million in his account and is another likely contender. The same goes for Rep. Mike Capuano (D), who has often been mentioned as a possible statewide candidate but would start out with a relative cash disadvantage since he had $1.2 million in the bank as of June 30.

Democratic state legislators voted to change the state law governing Senate vacancies in 2004, when Kerry was running for president and then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R) was positioned to appoint a Republican to replace him.

In his final days, Kennedy appealed to state legislators to change the law. In a letter sent last week, he requested that the law be changed so the governor could appoint a temporary replacement until a special election is held. The state Legislature, however, is in recess until after Labor Day and leaders there did not initially appear receptive to Kennedy’s request.

Staff Writer John McArdle contributed to this report.

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