The imminent nomination of Sen. John Kerry to be the next Secretary of State sets up another special election in Massachusetts. The nature of special elections combined with a relatively weak Democrat bench give Republican Scott Brown an edge to regain a seat in the Senate. The Democrats gain of 2 seats in November, however, affords them the opportunity to risk such an outcome.
Nomination Sen. Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton at the State Department sends a very loud signal that the Obama Administration doesn't relish a fight over its Cabinet nominees. A 20+ year veteran of the Senate, Kerry will likely breeze through the nomination process. The Senate is, above all else, the clubbiest of clubs. Only rarely will it stand in the way of a colleagues elevation to the Cabinet.
Once Kerry resigns his seat, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick can name a successor. He could name himself to the seat, but that always entails political risk. Once a successor is named, a special election will be scheduled to complete Kerry's term. The special has to be within 160 days of Kerry's resignation, but can't be earlier that 145 days.
John Kerry's term expires in 2014. So, next year's special election would be just to fill the remaining year and a half of his term. The election for a new 6-year term would be held in the 2014 mid-terms.
Given the expected ease of Kerry's nomination, the special election would be held sometime in June or July, relatively soon for a statewide election with national consequences. Surprisingly, the Democrats have a relatively weak bench to draw candidates from. Its entire Congressional delegation is Democrat, but the long-serving members have little name ID beyond their own districts. Before Gov. Patrick took office in 2007, Republicans had actually held the Governor's mansion for 16 years.
The weakness of the Democrat field is evidenced by Patrick's recent suggestion that he may appoint Vicky Kennedy, Ted Kennedy's widow, to fill Kerry's seat. If she were to accept the nomination, it would likely be as a placeholder, as she's shown little appetite for a full campaign.
Her appointment as a placeholder could pave the way for a special election match-up between Scott Brown and Gov. Patrick, a solid candidate with high name ID statewide. Early in his term, Gov. Patrick's approval ratings were in a slump, but rebounded just enough to win a close race for reelection in 2010.
There are no term limits on Governor in Massachusetts, but Patrick has repeatedly said he would not seek reelection in 2014. He has said he plans to return to the private sector after his second term as Governor. Of course, an opening in the US Senate may change those plans.
Special elections usually feature a much smaller, and more Republican, turnout. Scott Brown still enjoys a massive national base of donors and almost universal name recognition in the Bay State. It is likely that the national economy will remain weak throughout next year and unemployment will remain stubbornly high. This all adds up to a very strong possibility that Scott Brown returns to the Senate next year.