Either outcome of January 19's special election would have left us wondering what Democrat would step up to challenge the junior senator from Massachusetts. The fact that Scott Brown won, while unfortunate in every other way, probably produces a stronger field than would have been willing to primary a sitting senator, however clearly she needed to be primaried. As it is, the entire party will be looking to unseat Brown.
Brown had two pretty clear paths to choose from: he could legislate as he campaigned, as a teabagger senator, then cash in Palin-style after a certain 2012 loss; or he could try to get reelected. The strong indications are that he's chosen the latter path: the Boston Globe reports that he's hired at least one of Ted Kennedy's constituent services staffers, and he's emphasizing that he told Senate Republican leadership that he's going to "vote how I want to vote."
There's plenty of time for him to screw up massively, but as we learned a couple weeks ago, we should never underestimate Scott Brown. A strong Democratic candidate is necessary, and that candidate should come loaded for bear.
Massachusetts typically has a deep but boring Democratic bench, consisting largely of Irish-American men. In 2006, Deval Patrick vaulted over all the candidates of whom it could be said that it was "their turn," coming from nowhere with an exciting campaign. Unfortunately, he hasn't been as good at governing as he was at campaigning, which could have a dampening effect on voters' willingness to go for another mold-breaking candidate. On the other hand, it was pretty much Martha Coakley's turn, and we saw how that turned out.
Any of the candidates defeated by Martha Coakley in December could run again, of course.
Rep. Michael Capuano came in second in that primary, with 28%, and remains a viable possibility. As I noted in previewing December's primary, Capuano has strong legislative ratings from a range of progressive organizations, from the AFL-CIO to the League of Conservation Voters to Planned Parenthood. He campaigned last fall as a strong populist.
Capuano is only one of a few possible challengers coming from the House, though in a regular election, of course, any of them would have to give up their House seats.
Ed Markey is another House member with a strong, across-the-board progressive record whose name is always mentioned in relation to Senate seats opening up. Markey is 63 years old now, however, and while 66 is not old to be in the Senate, it is old to enter the Senate; that may play in his thinking or his prospects. (That said, it's not as though most of the possibilities mentioned here are wee young'uns -- most are in their 50s.)
Stephen Lynch considered running for Kennedy's seat, but did not do so amidst speculation that his hesitation to support a health care reform bill with a public option was hurting him with unions. That was particularly significant since Lynch, a former Ironworker, has always had strong union support. Running statewide, he'd be weakened by his anti-abortion stance, though if he got through a primary that would obviously be no issue against Scott Brown.
If, after the Coakley example, statewide elected officials were interested in testing their luck, Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin would be a logical "it's his turn" kind of candidate. He's been Secretary since 1994, so his name recognition should be high, in an innocuous way.
Hope springing eternal, expect one or more Kennedys to be mentioned: That could be Victoria Reggie Kennedy, former Rep. Joe Kennedy II (Robert Kennedy's eldest son), or even, among the real dreamers, Joe Kennedy III. Many people had hoped that Joe II would run this time around, and had he done so, most of the primary field would have cleared. Joe III is young -- just 29 now -- but has amassed the kind of public service record that, when combined with the Kennedy name, well prepares one for getting elected.
Of course, it's possible that one or more outside the box candidates could emerge. Two such candidates ran in the December primary: Steve Pagliuca, a wealthy self-funder with a history of Republican campaign contributions; and City Year founder Alan Khazei, who was endorsed by the Boston Globe in the primary.
One name that's already been floated for 2012, in a Boston Globe op-ed, is that of Elizabeth Warren:
If all this made Warren a household name among progressives, it was the economic crisis that catapulted her onto the national stage. As chairwoman of the TARP Oversight Committee, she’s been responsible for examining the bank bailouts and the regulatory response. Warren has vocalized the concerns of many Americans - but not many politicians - who are outraged by the rampant greed that led to the crisis, and the refusal of Wall Street to take responsibility. "I think the problem has been all the way throughout this crisis, that the banks have been treated gently and everyone else has been treated really pretty tough," said an exasperated Warren last fall, echoing what so many others - in both parties - have come to believe.
These people need someone of Warren’s stature. The timing is perfect: her term at TARP Oversight will come to an end in the spring of 2011, just as a Senate candidate would have to be ramping up.
First-time candidates running for major office can struggle with gaffes as they adjust to having their words and actions under a microscope for the first time; Warren, at least, has significant experience in the media and as a public spokesperson.
There'll be no shortage of candidates, possible and actual, for the seat. But whoever enters the primary had damn well better be prepared to fight to the end.