On Friday, Joe asked me what I thought about the idea of a Republican succeeding Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. In theory, yes it’s possible with an open seat, the right candidate, a divided Democratic primary, and effective get-out-the-vote operations in a low-turnout election. In practice, I think it is unlikely in the extreme.
First, the Republicans don’t have much of a field to choose from. The only Republican who would start out with greater stature than any of the Democrats is Mitt Romney. Romney doesn’t want to run and took positions in his 2008 presidential campaign that would come back to haunt him in a Senate race. Kerry Healey has said she won’t run and didn’t exactly light the world on fire in her 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Most of the promising Republican prospects of the 1990s — Gloria Larson, Ralph Martin, Wayne Budd, Lucille Hicks, Peter Blute, Peter Torkildsen — never panned out. They declined to strike while the iron was hot and in some cases have since drifted away from the party.
Bay State Republicans have exactly one promising state legislator — Sen. Scott Brown — who is said to be taking a serious look at the race. Brown can’t run for every office and it isn’t entirely clear that Republicans would hold his state senate seat if he went on to win something else. There is one other Republican — Michael Sullivan, a former acting ATF director, U.S. attorney, Plymouth County district attorney, and state representative — who is always brought up as a possibility because of his record as an anti-corruption prosecutor. Like Frank Cousins and the aforementioned group from the 1990s, he never runs.
Deval Patrick’s unpopularity would seem to help the Republicans. But it hasn’t yet translated into lower numbers for Barack Obama. And Massachusetts Republicans haven’t been able to walk and chew gum since Weld-Cellucci and Joe Malone were simultaneously re-elected in 1994. Since then, the party has only been able to focus on gubernatorial candidates, often to the detriment of the rest of the ticket. In 2002, Mass. Republicans had a perfectly credible candidate for treasurer in Dan Grabauskas but all eyes were on Romney.
Finally, the 2008 Senate race against John Kerry was a disaster. The party’s preferred candidate failed to even qualify for the primary ballot. The man who won the nod instead fought hard but went nowhere. Republicans had always held Kerry below 60 percent in previous races. Had they done so last year, Kerry’s GOP challenger would be in the catbird seat. But that isn’t what happened.
So you’d probably need a novelty candidate like Curt Schilling. But you’d also need him to be a competent candidate — having actually registered as a Republican would help. And he or she would have to be able to finesse the social issues, a much bigger challenge in a Senate race, while also aggressively painting the Democratic nominee as too far to the left of the state’s independent voters. A very tall order indeed. Probably too tall for the beleagured Massachusetts GOP.