What About John Kerry's Senate Seat?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 21 2012 10:41 AM

What About John Kerry's Senate Seat?

People have been joking about a Scott Brown comeback ever since he started lagging Elizabeth Warren in the polls. If Barack Obama won again, then, voila -- there'd be a special election to replace Secretary of State John Kerry! Popular former Sen. Scott Brown would be teed up for a comeback versus any Democratic comer!

I will leave the analysis of Kerry's foreign policy to colleagues like Fred Kaplan. The Secretary doesn't freelance much further than the administration wants him too, but Kerry's used his perch in the Senate to push for climate control legislation. I intend to remain a skeptic about that until and unless the skepticism becomes logically impossible. Brown polls far ahead of his possible, less-known Democratic foes? Sounds like 2011, when Brown polled far ahead of his possible, less-known Democratic foes, and 2009, when popular Attorney General Martha Coakley polled far ahead of her possible Republican foes.


But I wonder why Democrats didn't take another opportunity to play with the law and cancel a special election this year. Massachusetts used to give the governor the power of senatorial appointment, allowing a candidate of his choice to fill out however much of a term remained until the next general election. (In 1961, Democrats chose a placeholder for JFK's seat. Ted Kennedy won it in the 1962 general election, then had to win it again in 1964, the start of the next term.) In 2004, anticipating a possible Kerry presidency, state Democrats quickly passed a law taking this power away from the governor -- a guy named "Mitt Romney" -- and calling for a quick special election. In 2009, Democrats belatedly realized how they'd be screwed if the late Ted Kennedy's seat remained open for months. No senator, no ability to break filibusters. So they changed the law again, allowing the governor to pick an interim senator again, until voters got to the special.

There might have been a window for this stuff in November. Now, with Kerry going to State, it would probably be gauche to change the law. And it would deny the GOP the only possible upside of helping elevate this guy.


David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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