BOSTON — One by one, high-profile Massachusetts Republicans are bowing out of the special election for John Kerry’s Senate seat, leaving the party in search of a high-profile candidate capable of giving the Democrats a run for their money.
It began with former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown disappointing the GOP with his announcement on Friday that he would not be a candidate in the June 25 election to replace Kerry, who resigned last week to become U.S. Secretary of State. Despite his loss to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren in November, Brown remained a popular figure in Massachusetts with a statewide organization ready to be tapped and proven fundraising ability.
Brown was clearly Plan A for the party. Plan B has yet to emerge.
Richard Tisei, a former state Senate minority leader and 2010 Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said over the weekend that he would not be a candidate.
Then word came Monday that former Gov. William Weld, potentially a heavyweight candidate had he been interested, was intent to remain in private life.
“While I am grateful for the kind expressions of support and encouragement which I have received, I will not be a candidate for United States Senator from Massachusetts in the special election this year,” Weld said in a brief statement released through his law firm, Mintz Levin.
Some lesser-known, if promising, Republicans were also taking a pass, including Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, who said he was flattered his name was mentioned but wary, among other things, of the demands a Senate campaign would make on his family life. Tagg Romney, son of former governor and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said in a statement released to the Boston Herald that he would not be a candidate.
The series of ‘thanks but no thanks’ announcements threatened to deal the Massachusetts GOP another blow on the heels of an election in which it not only lost the Senate race saw standard-bearer Mitt Romney lose the state by a wide margin to President Barack Obama. The party has no statewide officeholders and is outnumbered by more than 5-1 in the state Legislature.
U.S. Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch have both announced they’ll seek the Democratic spot in the special election. Democratic heavy-hitters have already lined up behind Markey while Lynch has cast himself as an outsider with working-class roots.
On Monday, Republican leaders sought to dispel any notion that its search for a viable Senate candidate was turning desperate.
“We are not scrambling to find someone,” said Kirsten Hughes, the newly-elected chair of the Massachusetts GOP. “I feel confident we will have a great candidate stepping forward.”
Hughes specifically mentioned state Rep. Daniel Winslow, of Norfolk, who scheduled an announcement for Tuesday on whether he planned to run. Winslow is a former judge who served as chief legal counsel in Romney’s administration.
Kerry Healey, who was Romney’s lieutenant governor, is considering a run. Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy Seal, has also expressed interest in the race. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and television commentator, said he’d run if asked to do so by the party and only if there were no other Republicans running.
The clock is ticking for any prospective candidate, who would have to collect 10,000 certified signatures from registered voters by Feb. 27 to qualify for the April 30 primary ballot. Hughes said she did not believe the deadline would pose a major obstacle.
Markey and Lynch would each likely have a formidable fundraising advantage over the eventual Republican nominee.
While conceding the financial challenges, Hughes insisted that any GOP candidate would appeal to voters as a fresh face over Markey, who has been in Congress since 1976, or Lynch, who was first elected in 2002.
“They’ve served almost 50 years (combined) in Washington. They are the D.C. insider crowd that goes along to get along,” said Hughes.
Republicans are quick to point out that Brown was a little-known state senator before his stunning upset in the 2010 special election to succeed the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Still, some Democrats could not help but revel in the GOP’s failure to secure a more prominent candidate. Republicans are “now deep into the junior varsity in terms of a statewide race,” the Democratic-leaning Blue Mass Group said in a posting on its website Monday.