Now that Vicki Kennedy has definitively said she won't run for Senate next year, the field is wide open for other Democrats weighing a challenge against Republican incumbent Scott Brown.
Kennedy had been a favorite among the state's Democratic leaders. So while her decision doesn't come as a surprise, it is a signal to other potential candidates who have been hanging back.
"She's been saying she's not going to run for a very long time and no one took her seriously," said WBUR Democratic political analyst Dan Payne, in an interview with Morning Edition. "But those who might run as a consequence have been thinking about it and working on the edges for quite awhile."
So who is likely to emerge as the leading Democratic candidate?
In recent days, another Kennedy — former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) — has been talking up his cousin, former Rep. Joe Kennedy. But Payne said he doesn't perceive the comments as a signal from the Kennedy family that Joe is the man for the job.
"The question that's more important maybe is: Does Joe Kennedy want to do this, even if Patrick thinks he'd be a good candidate? And my sense of it is that he does not," Payne said. "He didn't like being in Congress so I doubt that he'd like the Senate, which is more dysfunctional than the House."
As for another reluctant candidate, Gov. Deval Patrick, Payne said he doesn't think that will happen either, even if he's begged to run by Democratic leaders who feel Patrick is the best shot after Vicki.
"I think Deval Patrick is a man of his word and he wouldn't have said so many times that he's not interested in it," Payne said. "So I think it would be extremely difficult to talk him into it — if not impossible."
Then there are the members of the U.S. House. Reps. Mike Capuano and Stephen Lynch are both considered likely to give up their seats to run against Brown in 2012.
Payne said he thinks Capuano is pretty much a sure bet at this point. "He is running a low-key campaign for Senate already," he said. "People I've talked to who are close to him tell me that he's probably going to do it, he wants to see how much money he can raise."
Given that Massachusetts is losing one of its 10 congressional seats to redistricting, a decision by Capuano to run would likely make things easier for the leadership as it reworks the map. "That would mean that his district, the 8th District, which is full of Democrats — Cambridge, Somerville and parts of Boston — would be available in a redistricted map of Massachusetts."
As for Lynch, Payne said, it would be to his advantage to have more liberals in the race, which would make him stand out as the more conservative candidate among the Democrats.
But ultimately, Payne said, the strongest challenger to Brown may be someone whose name we wouldn't even recognize at this point. "I think the fact that he came from nowhere is a lesson for a Democratic candidate," Payne said of the junior senator and his surprise victory last January. "That is, they can come from nowhere to match up with Mr. Nowhere."
This program aired on January 14, 2011.