Monday, August 31, 2009

Choosing Kennedy's Successor

Ted Kennedy's body is in its final resting place.

The eulogies have been given. The mourners have returned to their homes. The president is back in Washington. Kennedy's congressional colleagues are wrapping up their late summer break.

And, back in Kennedy's home state of Massachusetts, attention is turning to his successor.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced today that a primary will be held Dec. 8 and a special election will be held Jan. 19. Hillary Chabot of the Boston Herald writes that "[e]arlier today, Democratic lawmakers hit the gas on a push to appoint a temporary successor to Kennedy, moving up a public hearing on the legislation to Sept. 9."

Frank Phillips writes, in the Boston Globe, that "[a]ll eyes now are on Joseph P. Kennedy II ... with family members and political allies expecting him to make a decision very shortly."

There had been some talk, in the days before Ted Kennedy's funeral, that his widow might be persuaded to take his place. Most indications are that she is not interested. Chabot, in fact, writes that she told Patrick today that she is not interested. But there is some doubt. Chabot's colleague, Edward Mason, reports, in the Boston Herald, that a "Democratic operative with Kennedy contacts" has said that Victoria Kennedy is "very much interested" in being her husband's temporary replacement while the voters choose his successor.

So it falls to Joe.

"No other Kennedy of his generation with the political stature to step into the role has signaled interest in it," Phillips writes.

And the entry of a Kennedy into a special election campaign shortly after the death of Ted Kennedy apparently would have a chilling effect on the field of potential contenders.

Phillips writes that two Kennedy loyalists who have been considering seeking the job — Reps. Edward J. Markey and Michael Capuano — "would not run against a member of the family."

Joe wouldn't have an open shot at the Democratic nomination, though. Phillips reports that "[t]wo other major Democratic figures considering entering the race — Attorney General Martha Coakley and Rep. Stephen F. Lynch — have told associates they plan to compete for the primary nomination no matter who enters."

Personally, though, I find it hard to imagine Massachusetts Democrats nominating someone else if any Kennedy was on the ballot.

And, even though some Republicans in Massachusetts have expressed an interest in the seat, I find it even harder to believe the voters in the Bay State would elect one to the Senate over a Kennedy or some other Democrat — even though they did elect Mitt Romney governor in 2002. During Kennedy's tenure, only two Republicans — Edward Brooke, a black progressive who earned his reputation by prosecuting organized crime and contributing to the investigation that led to a conviction in the "Boston strangler" case, and former Gov. Leverett Saltonstall — were elected to the Senate from Massachusetts.

Only Democrats served as Kennedy's Senate colleagues from Massachusetts in the final 30 years of his life.

The other day, when I wrote about Teddy Kennedy Jr.'s eulogy to his father, I observed that he was not a likely choice to take his father's place because he lives in Connecticut. Today, Phillips sets me straight on the fine points of the law in Massachusetts.

Teddy Jr., Phillips acknowledges, "lives in Connecticut but owns a house in Hyannis Port. This would not be an issue, however, as there is no residency requirement of a U.S. Senate seat."

Even so, "he has given no indication publicly that he is interested in the seat."

And that brings us back to Joe, who increasingly appears to be the sole hope for those who wish to see the Kennedys keep the Senate seat in the family on a long–term basis.

Ideologically, he appears to be well suited to succeed his uncle. When he was in the House, Joe's high ratings from Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the Committee on Political Education (COPE), Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) mirrored Ted's.

And the two got similarly low ratings from groups like the American Conservative Union (ACU) and the National Security Index (NSI) of the American Security Council.

In the meantime, I suppose, all eyes — especially those in the Oval Office — will be on Patrick and the Massachusetts lawmakers — and whether they will grant Ted Kennedy's dying wish to have an interim successor named to speak for Massachusetts in the Senate — and preserve the Democrats' "filibuster–proof majority" for the rest of 2009.

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