Massachusetts Senate: the race is on!


The race to occupy the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat is in full swing. With the state now represented by one Harvard Law School alumnus, interim Senator Paul G. Kirk ’64, another, Alan Khazei ’87, has joined several prominent locals who are now competing in a hard-fought race leading up to the election of a permanent replacement.

A U.S. Senate seat has not opened in Massachusetts for decades, and the quest to take over Kennedy’s brought a number of new names onto the state’s political radar. While Democrats and Republicans sparred on Beacon Hill over the possibility Governor Deval Patrick ’82 would be able to appoint an interim successor, potential candidates for a special election, to be held in January 2010, gathered both forces and funding for a contentious campaign.

State Attorney GeneralMartha Coakley was the first to step into the ring. Her announcement – that she would run for the first U.S. Senate seat vacancy in Massachusetts in decades – followed so soon after Kennedy’s death that she faced criticism. Weeks later, however, she was the frontrunner in a race that was heating up long before anyone was certain who would represent Massachusetts in the Senate in the interim.

With health care legislation pending in Congress, few Democrats were willing to lose their party’s legislative supermajority. Armed with a personal appeal from Kennedy, and the argument that the state ought not lose representation, advocates of an interim appointment engaged naysayers who claimed it was hypocritical for the state legislature to overturn a law it had passed in 2004 to ensure that Republican Governor Mitt Romney ’75 could not appoint his choice of replacement Senator had John Kerry won the presidency.

Eventually, advocates of an interim seat prevailed. At the Kennedy family’s suggestion, Patrick appointed Paul G. Kirk ’64 to fill the seat until January. Kirk, who was, until then, head of the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, had been a trusted confidant of the former Senator Kennedy for decades. His ascension to the Senate, if only for a few months, brings the number of U.S. Senators who graduated from Harvard Law School to seven.

In the meantime, the field of candidates running in the 2010 special election has only grown more crowded. State Republicans’ most prominent candidate is Scott Brown, a State Senator from Wrentham. Despite the overwhelmingly Democratic character of the state, its Republican Party is not completely moribund – three of the state’s last four governors were affiliated with the GOP. Still, in the last few decades, Massachusetts voters have tended to prefer that Democrats represent them on the national stage. A mid-September poll indicates that Coakley would likely beat Brown even without the support of then-undecided voters.

That means the most likely future Senator will be decided on December 8, the date of the Democratic primary. Beyond Coakley and Khazei, Mike Capuano, who represents the state’s 8th District in the House of Representatives, and Stephen Pagliuca, the owner of the Boston Celtics, have declared official candidacies. The same September polling data indicates a commanding lead for Coakley, who has benefitted from her early leap into the race, and the fact that she is the only one of the candidates to be elected to statewide office thus far.

Capuano was thought to benefit from his experience on the national level, but trails. The polling did not take into account Pagliuca’s impact on the race. While Coakley is largely considered a safe choice – her most controversial action as Attorney General has been prosecuting individuals who promoted the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie with guerilla art installations that shut down the city of Boston after they were thought to be bombs – Khazei, whose background is both Irish and Iranian, has positioned himself as an outsider.

The founder of a number of public service initiatives, most notably City Year, a youth service program affiliated with AmeriCorps, Khazei was a major supporter of the Edward M. Kennedy National Service Act, which dramatically expanded federal commitment to similar programs. On Wednesday, Khazei’s campaign announced that he was being endorsed by a scion of the Kennedy family, Max Kennedy, the son of former Attorney General and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. HLS Professor Lawrence Lessig also announced – via Twitter – that he was supporting Khazei’s bid.

Pagliuca, who graduated from Harvard Business School and made his fortune in consulting, has campaigned as someone who can use his business acumen to improve the national economy. Democratic voters may balk at some of Pagliuca’s beliefs, however – while he stands with members of the party who support the option of a public insurer as part of health care reform and supports same-sex marriage, he has said he is pro-choice, and backed a run by Romney against Kennedy in 1994, as well as the gubernatorial candidacy of Republican William Weld ’70 and, in 2000, George W. Bush.

Capuano is a five-term Representative who is best known for his stand against the Patriot Act and a commitment to international development aid initiatives. Other members of the Massachusetts House delegation declined runs, saying they were in more powerful positions in their committees in the House than they would be in the Senate.

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