Vicious fight brewing over Kerry Senate seat

Published July 19, 2004 3:04PM (EDT)

The latest issue of Roll Call examines Democratic prospects for a Senate majority in the next Congress and the brewing battle in Massachusetts over a Senate replacement for John Kerry: "a net one-seat gain in the chamber would mean Vice President John Edwards could provide the 51st and tie-breaking vote for the purposes of organizing the chamber. But under that very scenario, a whole series of twists and turns would likely take place, not the least of which is that the Senate majority could flip back and forth while what still seems likely to be a GOP-controlled House provides the aggressive opposition.

"Unless Democrats take over the Senate with a clear and convincing majority of at least 52 seats -- a feat most political prognosticators say is unlikely -- the fight over selecting Kerry's replacement in the Bay State could leave the Senate in a state of paralysis."

And that fight is already getting vicious. Massachusetts state Democrats have the votes to strip Republican Governor Mitt Romney of his power to appoint an interim senator if Kerry wins in November. State legislative leaders want to allow the seat to remain vacant until a special election to permanently fill Kerry's Senate slot -- an empty seat is not a Republican vote.

But even if the Massachusetts Democrats succeed in preventing a Romney appointment, a moderate Republican could still grab the seat in the special election. There was speculation in Friday's Boston Globe that former Republican governor Paul Cellucci might go for it. He is leaving his post as ambassador to Canada and returning to the Bay State in January, sparking rumors about his political future. "Republican officials were hesitant to discuss publicly a potential Senate bid by Cellucci, because it could only happen if Bush loses the November election to Kerry. But the prospect of Cellucci, 56, returning to his home state, where he served as governor from 1997 to 2001, had some GOP operatives talking about his political future this week.

"Jody Dow, vice chairwoman of the Republican National Committee for the Northeast, insisted that Cellucci was probably 'toying with the idea' of a Senate run.

"'I would think he'd think along those lines,' Dow said. 'He must be thinking about what the next step is for him. He's too young to retire, and he's been in politics a long time.'"

Even if Cellucci does run, don't expect a landslide. Likely Democratic contenders include prominent Reps. Edward Markey and Martin Meehan, who are already raising money to run for the seat. Both would have a fundraising edge over Cellucci in the beginning of the 145-160 day campaign.

By Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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