Thursday, June 24, 2004

Markey eyes U.S. Senate

Anyone who doesn't think that the Massachusetts political landscape will be turned upside in the wake of Sen. John Kerry being elected president of the United States should think again. Kerry hasn't even won and already a number of Democrats are prepping to run for the presumed open seat.

While mingling with Democratic supporters at Saturday night's Winchester Area Democracy in Action event, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said he will be a candidate for the open seat if Kerry wins. Markey's confirmation wasn't much of a surprise. Some of his supporters have already begun talking up his candidacy and fund-raising letters promoting the special election have reportedly been sent out to potential donors. Markey considered running for the seat in 1984 against Kerry.

But Markey isn't the only member of the state's delegation rumored to be eyeing Kerry's seat.

Rep. Marty Meehan, Rep. Stephen Lynch, Rep. Bill Delahunt, and Rep. Barney Frank are all rumored to be ramping up their campaign committees for an early 2005 special election primary. Former 2002 gubernatorial candidate Robert Reich has also been mentioned as a possible candidate.

And why not run? A special election to fill Kerry's seat is essentially a free pass - no one running will have to relinquish his elected post during the campaign. The race would probably be short and nasty, with many millions of dollars thrown around and divergent Democrat Party interests going at each other.

Lynch would represent pro-life voters and those few lunch bucket Reagan Democrats left in the state while getting good numbers from conservative suburban voters. Frank and Reich would get the bulk of their support from the liberal intellectual enclaves, like Cambridge and Amherst, and could effectively cancel each other out in a tight, low turnout primary. Meehan's base is in the Merrimack Valley but he would pick up centrist votes from certain sectors of the high technology community, who tend to be independent swing voters. Ditto Delahunt whose congressional district - a bastion of moderate and conservative voters since redistricting - has seen spurts of growth.

So where would Markey's statewide support come from? And will his slippery positions on some issues and centrist stance allow him to compete for fickle primary votes in a race with the likes of Frank or Lynch?

Markey's remarks on Saturday had all the makings of a campaign stump speech and show why he will be competitive against anyone [Markey does have a Republican opponent, Ken Chase, and an independent opponent, former Democrat Jim Hall - so he is in campaign mode]. The incumbent verbally lashed out at the Republicans currently in control of D.C. and at President Bush for lying about the invasion of Iraq. But he conveniently disregarded his own vote for the invasion. Markey attacked Attorney General John Ashcroft's secrecy yet failed to mention his own support for the Constitutional-challenging PATRIOT Act and other anti-terrorism legislation. Markey complained that Republicans were passing bills in the dead of night and faulted the media for not covering the discretions. Yet, at the same time, he ignored his own role in weakening the media with the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Bill which allowed a handful of corporations to gobble up all the radio and TV stations, effectively limiting the news coverage.

The throngs of cheering concerned voters at the event didn't seem to notice - or mind - the duplicity. Instead, they enjoyed the political invectives, rightfully angered by the state of the nation.

But listening to Markey complain - while ignoring his role in enabling the problems - was disheartening at best, frightening at worst. And one has to wonder how it will sell on the statewide political stage.

At the same time, Republicans are frantically trying to squelch the special election legislation.

And why shouldn't they? As the law stands now, Romney gets to select Kerry's successor. This law has been in effect since the time when senators were selected by the Legislature and not elected by the people. Some suggest Romney would nominate himself. Others say he could tap Lt. Gov. Kerry Murphy Healy. Former Suffolk D.A. Ralph Martin's and Convention Board chairwoman Gloria Larson's names have also been floated, with Turnpike Authority Board member Christy Mihos saying he would consider running in a special election.

However, are the Democrats overstepping their bounds by even suggesting a special election? Yes, holding onto Kerry's senate seat is extremely important. But the last time the Democrats pulled a ruse like this it backfired.

Earlier this year when the state senate set up a special election to be held on the Democrat's presidential primary day, more voters than expected voted. Some were so angry that they swung to the right and elected a very conservative Republican in otherwise safe Democratic territory. Do Democrats want to repeat this political mistake with a U.S. Senate seat?

Knowing the Democratically-controlled Legislature like we do, I doubt they will pass up the opportunity to do what is in the best interests of their party. Plus, if one of the congressional candidates wins, there will be another special election to fill the congressional vacancy. Who better to run for that seat than state reps and senators waiting for the chance to move up and out?

Combine all of this with Green-Rainbow and Libertarian candidates, candidates scrambling to get 10,000 qualifying signatures in a couple of weeks, and one thing is for sure: A special election for Kerry's seat will be a free-for-all - and every political junkie's dream.

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