President Obama's nomination of Democrat John Kerry to be secretary of state sets off a chain of events that could put another Kennedy in the Senate, at least on an interim basis.
And it gives ousted Republican Scott Brown a fighting chance of returning to the Senate by midyear.
On Friday, Obama nominated Kerry, the senior senator from Massachusetts, to replace Hillary Clinton as the nation's chief diplomat. A 27-year veteran of the Senate and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry should win easy Senate confirmation early in the new year.
Brown, the junior senator from Massachusetts, won a 2010 special election after the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, and then in November lost his bid for a full term to Democrat Elizabeth Warren. He leaves office Jan. 3.
Brown has not announced his interest in the upcoming special election, but in a farewell to Senate colleagues last week, he pointedly called it "my closing floor speech for this session in the United States Senate." And The New York Times called his candidacy a "foregone conclusion," noting that his popularity would likely preclude serious GOP opposition in the solidly blue state.
A poll by WBUR, Boston's NPR news station, found high favorability ratings for Brown, a moderate who was the first Senate Republican to back a renewed assault weapons ban after the Connecticut school shootings.
Massachusetts law requires Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint an interim successor to Kerry and then to hold a special election between 145 and 160 days after the vacancy is created. The New York Times explains:
"A special election for the Kerry seat would likely occur in May or June. ... A vacancy is deemed to occur once the departing senator files a letter of resignation, even if the resignation is not effective until a later date.
"It is not clear if Mr. Kerry will submit such a letter right away or if he will wait until he is confirmed by the Senate. Even Republicans have said that Mr. Kerry would sail through the confirmation process."
The WBUR poll, conducted by MassINC Polling Group, pitted Brown against several potential Democratic opponents in a special election, and he handily beat them all: Brown led state Attorney General Martha Coakley, whom he defeated in 2010, by 15 percentage points; Rep. Ed Markey by 18 points; Rep. Mike Capuano by 19 points; former Rep. Marty Meehan, now the chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, by 19 points; and Rep. Stephen Lynch by 27 percentage points.
He led Gov. Patrick himself by only 7 percentage points, but there is no indication the governor would consider seeking the post.
"Others mentioned included Victoria Kennedy, Senator Edward M. Kennedy's widow, and Edward Kennedy Jr., the late senator's son, who lives in Connecticut. But because there is no clear front-runner, others may emerge. Even Ben Affleck, the Hollywood actor, has been floated."
After Kennedy's death, Patrick appointed an interim successor who vowed not to run for the seat, a tactic he would like to follow again, the governor said Friday. "I expect to appoint someone who does not plan to run for the seat," he told reporters, according to Masslive.com. "I have had a number of conversations and there's some pretty compelling candidates. Remember it is a four- or five-month assignment."