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Patrick Sets Election Date For Kennedy's Seat03:54
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Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday set a date of Jan. 19 for a special election to fill the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seat. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday set a date of Jan. 19 for a special election to fill the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seat. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

A special election for a successor to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy will be held Jan. 19. The January election date, set by Gov. Deval Patrick, leaves Massachusetts with only one voice in the Senate for the next five months.

It also leaves Senate Democrats one vote short of the filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats they may need if the expansion of health care coverage comes to a vote.

Gov. Patrick is pushing for a change in the law that would allow him to appoint an interim Senator until the special election can be held.

Patrick said he has been approached by several people interested in the job, but he won't say who. The governor said he doesn't need the political headache of saying "yes" to one person and "no" to a lot of others, but he said changing the law is the right thing for the state.

Legislators have scheduled a hearing next week to discuss giving the governor the power to appoint an interim senator.

Republicans oppose changing the law. After all, they say, it was Democrats who created this five-month period that the state would be without a senator when they decided to remove Gov. Mitt Romney's power to appoint a senator when it looked like John Kerry had a chance to win the 2004 presidential election.

But the Republicans are far outnumbered in the Legislature. Assistant Republican leader George Peterson predicted that the Democrats will push the proposal through in the next two weeks."I have no doubt that the hearing will be held next Wednesday morning," Peterson said. "There will be a session within the next week after that, and it will come to a vote on the floor."

There's a been of lot of speculation that if former Congressman Joseph Kennedy II, the head of Citizens Energy, decides to run, many Democrats will bow out. So far, there's been no word from Kennedy on whether he's interested in the job.

Former Congressman Marty Meehan, now chancellor of UMass Lowell, has said he will wait to see if a Kennedy runs. At $4.8 million, Meehan has the largest federal campaign account among the potential candidates.

One candidate expected to run in January's special election, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, declined to comment.

Five months may be a long time for Massachusetts to be without a voice in the Senate, but Democratic political consultant Dan Payne said it makes for a short campaign, especially since the primary is on Dec. 8.

"If a Kennedy is not in the special election, then the candidates are going to have to begin very rapidly to gather signatures, gather money, gather staff," Payne said. "They're not going to have a lot of time to mull it over. They're going to have to begin very quickly."

"Cash is king," said Republican political consultant Eric Fehrnstrom. "The way to emerge from what will be a crowded field of candidates is to get statewide name recognition fast, and the best way to do that is paid media, which costs money, so the candidates who come into the race with their own money or the ability to raise money have an advantage."

Massachusetts is still mourning the loss of its senator and, three days after his funeral, no one wants to appear insensitive by announcing that he or she is running for Kennedy's seat. But the short campaign window won't give any interested candidate much time to demonstrate sensitivity.

This program aired on August 31, 2009.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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