WBUR

Kerry Departure Sets Off Mass. Senate Fight

President Barack Obama and Sen. John Kerry arrive for a new conference to announce Kerry's nomination as the next secretary of state Friday. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

President Barack Obama and Sen. John Kerry arrive for a new conference to announce Kerry’s nomination as the next secretary of state Friday. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

BOSTON — President Obama announced the nomination of U.S. Sen. John Kerry to be his next secretary of state Friday at the White House. The decision means Massachusetts is one step closer to another Senate election.

In announcing the nomination, Obama said Kerry’s entire life has prepared him for the post.

“He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training,” the president said. “He has earned the respect and trust of his Senate colleagues.”

Even Kerry’s Republican colleagues speak highly of him and he is expected to sail to an easy confirmation. Republican Sens. John McCain, of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, spoke shortly before the president announced Kerry’s nomination.

“We have known John Kerry for many years. We have confidence in John Kerry’s ability to carry out the job,” McCain said.

“I think Sen. Kerry was a very solid choice by the president,” Graham said. “He has a lot of experience. He’s been on the Foreign Relations Committee for a very long time. He knows most of the world leaders, so when he goes into a country he will be a known quantity. I’ve disagreed with him on a lot of policy choices, but I respect Sen. Kerry and think he would be a very solid choice.”

Kerry heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which must hold his confirmation hearing.

“If [Scott Brown] runs, he’ll be a competitive candidate. He’s a really good campaigner, but he is, as we have seen, not invincible.”
– Gov. Deval Patrick

The Senate is not expected to take up Kerry’s confirmation until the new year. At a hearing of his committee Thursday, Kerry pointed out that early in life he became familiar with the work of the American diplomats he is now poised to lead.

“They spend years learning the languages of a country so that they can be on the front lines of direct diplomacy, ‘foreign policy outdoors,’ as my dad used to call it,” Kerry said. “When my father served in Berlin after World War II, I remember my mother sometimes looking at the clock nervously in the evening when he was late for dinner.”

Gov. Deval Patrick must set a date for a special Senate election within 145 to 160 of Kerry’s resignation.

U.S. Reps. Michael Capuano, of Somerville, and Ed Markey, of Malden, are among those believed to be considering a run. Neither was available for comment. Capuano’s office issued a statement saying he’s going to spend the holidays with his family, talking with them about his future. Rep. Stephen Lynch, of South Boston, issued a statement Wednesday saying he would give serious consideration to running.

One member of Congress who could change the dynamics of the race is Niki Tsongas, of Lowell, but she won’t say now whether she will run.

“After we resolve the issues that are so important today and resolve the issues of the fiscal cliff, I’ll have more to say about the Senate special election,” Tsongas said.

If she becomes the only woman in the race, Tsongas could benefit from fundraising by Emily’s List, an organization that backs women who support keeping abortion legal.

State Sen. Ben Downing, of Pittsfield, said Wednesday he’s a potential candidate.

“I’m absolutely considering it,” Downing said. “If Massachusetts Democrats have learned anything from the past few elections, it’s that if we want to be successful in statewide races, we need to nominate fresh faces.”

Edward Kennedy Jr., the son of the late senator, is also being mentioned as a potential candidate. He did not return a call to his office in New York.

A WBUR poll released this week found Sen. Scott Brown, who lost his seat to Elizabeth Warren in November, is in a good position to win Kerry’s seat. In theoretical matchups, Brown easily defeated Capuano, Markey and Lynch. Brown’s office said he was with his family Friday, mourning the death this week of his father, and was not available for comment.

But Peter Ubertaccio, chairman of the political science department at Stonehill College, says Brown faces the problem of being associated with a conservative national Republican Party.

“I don’t think that the issues that caused his campaign a lot of distress in 2012 have gone away,” Ubertaccio said. “The Democrats are going to move seamlessly into making the same arguments against him in 2013 as they did in 2012, and the national party is going to provide some difficulty for Brown.”

Gov. Patrick seems confident that Democrats can defeat Brown.

“If he runs, he’ll be a competitive candidate,” Patrick said. “He’s a really good campaigner, but he is, as we have seen, not invincible.”

Patrick can appoint a temporary senator until the special election is held. Edward Kennedy Jr. and Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late senator, have been mentioned for that spot. Asked if he would name a Kennedy, Patrick said “maybe.” Another name mentioned for the interim job is retiring Rep. Barney Frank. Frank’s office says he won’t comment.

Patrick says he plans to name someone who won’t run in the special election.

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