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If not Kerry, who?

If he manages to get out of his own way between now and November, John Kerry just might become our next president. And ever since his Lazarus act in Iowa and New Hampshire, the question of who might fill Kerry’s US Senate seat — and how that person would get there — has been a hot topic. Would Governor Mitt Romney appoint himself to take over for Kerry? Would the legislature undercut Romney by stripping his ability to appoint Kerry’s successor and forcing a special election? If this happens — and if, as expected, several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation vie for the seat — who would come out on top?

Whether Kerry’s job will even be available won’t be known for six months. But among the state’s congressmen, jockeying by potential successors has begun in earnest. Representative Marty Meehan had a huge fundraising tally in the first quarter of 2004, pulling in close to $400,000. Representative Stephen Lynch has been meeting with Michael Donovan, who managed Lynch’s fundraising during his successful 2001 special-election campaign for the Ninth Congressional District seat. (The seat was vacated by the death of Joe Moakley, who had held it for almost three decades.) Representative Ed Markey recently raised eyebrows by attending a routine Massachusetts Democratic Party meeting — not an obvious scheduling priority for state’s longest-serving congressman. "Ed Markey’s been a lot more public than I’ve seen him in a long time," says one consultant. "Over the last few months, he’s been out there a lot." (As much as political insiders want to talk about the hypothetical Senate race, no one wants to be identified by name.)

Meanwhile, a second consultant notes that Representative Bill Delahunt has been unusually sharp in recent public appearances. "He clearly is concentrating on his stump speech," this consultant says. "When I’ve seen him, he’s got a very well-defined indictment of the Bush administration. He’s got a pretty good rap down." Representative Barney Frank has kept a lower profile, but he, too, has been quietly ratcheting up fundraising — and political cognoscenti say that if the job is available, Frank will make a play for it. "Barney wants it desperately," says a third consultant.

If Kerry’s seat does open up, and if the legislature forces a special election, which congressman would have the edge? Some think Meehan’s prodigious fundraising powers — at the end of the first quarter of this year, he had $2.3 million in the bank — would make him the obvious front-runner. Others suggest that Markey and Frank would move to the top of the field given their long congressional histories. Then again, this same advantage could also make it difficult for Markey and Frank — especially Markey — to wage no-holds-barred campaigns. And this, in turn, might offer an opening to a relative newcomer like Lynch. "Ed Markey is the dean of the congressional delegation, so you would expect that he would run a more courtly campaign — that he might actually wait until there’s a vacancy to really step it up," the second consultant says. "But by the time he kicks it into high gear, are the others going to be out in front?"

All this maneuvering will probably occur out of the public eye for the next few months. But as Election Day approaches — particularly if Kerry is even or ahead in the polls — that should change. "Right now they’re being good sports; there doesn’t seem to be any animus at all," the third consultant says of the congressmen eyeing Kerry’s seat. "But there are clearly a bunch of them thinking seriously about it. And as the election gets closer, things are going to get a bit edgy."

Issue Date: May 28 - June 3, 2004
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