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Joe Kennedy's Decision Opens Up A Senate Seat Free-For-All02:37
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The field of candidates to succeed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is expected to become clearer in the next few days.

A Kennedy has held the Senate seat in all but two years dating back to 1953 — but that won't continue to be the case. Former Congressman Joseph Kennedy has decided not to enter the race, clearing the way for other Democrats, and maybe some Republicans.

Tufts University political science professor Jeffrey Berry joined us to size up where the race is going.

Bob Oakes: How does Joe Kennedy's decision influence what happens from today forward in this race?

Jeffrey Berry: Well it's going to have a dramatic influence on what's going to happen. All of the other possible candidates were waiting to see if he was going to run, and if he had run it was likely to be a Coakley-Kennedy race. But now we're going to see four or five other candidates jump in. So it's a free for all.

How strong a candidate would Joe Kennedy have been?

I think he would have been a strong candidate, if that speech that he gave the night before his uncle's funeral was any indication, he had a powerful message and he would have been a great emotional tug. Not sure he would have won — he has some tough competition in Martha Coakley, at least — but he would have been a formidable candidate.

You've talked a couple times about Coakley, the current Massachusetts attorney general, who's already in the race. Congressman Stephen Lynch has taken out nomination papers, but has not formally announced yet. Let's hear about the other people you expect in this race.

Right. There's at least four other former or current members of the congressional delegation: Marty Meehan, who's the chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell; Ed Markey, who's a high seniority and very powerful congressman, chairman of the energy and environment subcommittee in the House; Michael Capuano, who's a liberal, very popular with labor, representative from Somerville; and John Tierney, who's also a very liberal representative from the North Shore.

One of the things that's interesting about this is, because it's a special election, none of the congressmen who are running have to give up their seats, so it's more or less a free shot. Senate seats in Massachusetts don't come open very often, so this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which is why we're likely to see a number of them jump in, even though their chances may not be all that great.

All Democrats. We'll talk about Republicans in a moment, but who leads in that Democratic field, or is it really anyone's race?

I think Martha Coakley starts in the pole position. She has very high-name recognition across the state, she has high favorables — what she doesn't have right now is a lot of money, because as a state officeholder she doesn't have a federal account, but I think she'll be able to raise quite a bit of money. So she starts off as the leader.

Marty Meehan has $4.9 million in his federal account left over from when he was a congressman, so he can buy a lot of name recognition, if he jumps in.

Ed Markey has, I think, quite a bit of money too, and he's a very powerful congressman. It's not clear if it's to his advantage to step down from a subcommittee chairmanship in the House to be a low seniority senator.

Michael Capuano and John Tierney and Stephen Lynch all have name-recognition problems, and so they're going to need to raise a lot of money quickly and get on the air quickly if they choose to run.

On the GOP side, the only Republican officeholder to jump in so far is Bob Burr, a selectman from Canton. State Sen. Scott Brown has said that he's considering a bid. We've heard from former Lieutenant Gov. Kerry Healey, who said that she's out. Why hasn't there been more action yet on the Republican side?

Well, we can go right to the numbers. It's important to remind ourselves just how Democratic a state this is. Only 12 to 13 percent of all registered voters in Massachusetts are Republicans, so for any Republican it's a daunting challenge.

Do you expect any big names in the GOP field?

I think Scott Brown, who I would not describe as a big name, but as a promising member of the GOP, looks like he's going to run. He's a state senator from the western suburbs. He has a name-recognition problem and, more importantly, I'm not sure he's going to be able to raise the money.

I think a lot of Republicans are looking more towards the gubernatorial race and thinking that Charlie Baker has a good chance of defeating Deval Patrick and Tim Cahill.

I know the candidates are either not out of the box yet or hardly out of the box, but what do you expect the chief issue in this U.S. Senate race to be?

On the Democratic primary, it's: who's going to back health care strongly, who's going to carry on the mantle of Ted Kennedy.

I don't think they'll be great differences, except for Stephen Lynch, who's a more moderate Democrat. I think Lynch's plausible scenario — not highly plausible, but a plausible scenario — is that running in a group of four or five liberals, the one moderate can sneak through.

This program aired on September 8, 2009.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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