Scott Brown is this state’s once and likely future Senator — the beneficiary, this holiday season, of some striking good fortune.
Brown undoubtedly had a gloomy Thanksgiving; he had, after all, just lost to Elizabeth Warren. But since then, things have brightened. With John Kerry now President Obama’s nominee for secretary of state, another Senate seat should soon be up for grabs. That by itself is good news for Brown. But it was hardly his only political gift this season.
On Christmas Eve came cheery news from Connecticut, residence of one Edward Moore Kennedy Jr., he of his late father’s looks and name. Despite the many Democrats pushing him to jump into the race, Ted Jr. demurred.
Kennedy would have been a field-clearing choice for the Democrats. And make no mistake: He may be untested and even a resident of another state, but if he had entered the race, Kennedy would have won. This is Massachusetts, after all.
Then, just hours after Kennedy’s withdrawal, Brown received another present. Cambridge homey and well-regarded actor-director Ben Affleck revealed — via Facebook, no less — that he too would stay on the sidelines. Affleck wouldn’t have received the same deference as Ted Jr. He probably would have faced a primary, and he might have lost. Still, celebrities have made the leap before — Arnold Schwarzenegger, Fred Thompson, Al Franken — and Affleck may one day as well.
But that day isn’t now, and as the year closes, Brown has to be enjoying the sight of potential opponents taking themselves out. Others who could be formidable never signaled even an initial interest in the race. That list includes Victoria Kennedy, wife of the late senator; Governor Deval Patrick; and Attorney General Martha Coakley.
And so, at least for now, the number of plausible candidates has dwindled to just three, all members of Congress: Somerville’s Mike Capuano, Southie’s Steve Lynch, and Malden’s Ed Markey, who has already declared that he’s running.
That might change. There could be some last-minute surprise entrant, à la Warren. Or the Democrats in the Legislature could alter the law, getting rid of the special election, now slated for 145 to 160 days after Kerry leaves, and handing appointment authority to the governor. But if things remain as they are, Scott Brown has to be thinking it’ll be a pretty good 2013.
That’s because special elections are accelerated affairs with lower-than-normal turnout. The beneficiaries of such contests are those who already have statewide name recognition — something none of the congressional candidates can claim. What’s more, Brown, fresh off his last campaign, already has staff and infrastructure ready for another effort. His voter list is still up-to-date. Add to that a nationwide network of donors, and Brown looks formidable.
That’s not to say any of the three congressmen would be pushovers. The Democratic primary process will elevate each contender’s profile, and national Democrats care enough about this race that they may well pour in money. Further, each of the congressional trio has considerable strengths: Capuano’s passion, Lynch’s working-class roots, and Markey’s long experience. Remember, too, that Massachusetts is a deeply blue state, which gives any Democrat a built-in boost.
Having said that, polls suggest this is Brown’s race to lose. Of course, that was also true of his contest against Warren, and he managed to do exactly that. Some of that, of course, was Warren. She recovered from early mistakes and ran a good, ground-based effort. She also benefitted from a surge of support for Obama that was reflected in high voter turnout. Still, much of Brown’s defeat was self-inflicted. He sacrificed considerable goodwill by petty chip-on-the-shoulder politics (e.g., addressing Warren as “professor”). He also failed to present a set of policy prescriptions that went beyond vague niceties about “bipartisanship.”
It’s rare that one has, so quickly, a chance to learn from past mistakes. But if he does learn, Brown will likely find himself truckin’ back to Washington.
This column originally appeared in The Boston Sunday Globe on December 30, 2012.