IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Kennedy Senate race shaped by non-candidates

With the clock running on a shortened election calendar, the campaign to succeed Sen. Edward Kennedy has become notable for who's not running, instead of who is.
/ Source: The Associated Press

With the clock running on a shortened election calendar, the campaign to succeed Sen. Edward Kennedy has become notable for who's not running, instead of who is.

Not his wife, Vicki Kennedy. Not his nephew Joseph P. Kennedy II. Not Martin Meehan, a former congressman with a mother lode of $5 million in the bank. Not Andrew Card, a former White House chief of staff with the capacity to raise millions himself.

On Monday, Rep. John Tierney said he wouldn't run because he was more valuable to the state as a House veteran than as a Senate freshman. That was the same rationale his fellow Democrat, Rep. Edward J. Markey, gave Friday when he bailed on a campaign.

So far, the field includes an attorney general not three years into her first statewide term, a state senator and a town selectman.

"You can drool, but if the cake is too expensive, you don't buy it," said Marc Landy, a Boston College political science professor.

The dearth of big-name candidates, said Landy, shows the challenge of competing in a short race, and political calculations amid the prospective field.

Competing questions
"The odds of a Democrat winning this seat are overwhelming, so the question for the Democrats is, `Can I win the primary?'" Landy added.

"For the Republicans, the question is, `What is it worth to me to get nominated, what is the value of this nomination?' You don't have to win for it to be valuable."

The primacy some candidates have given to their personal and private-sector lives also speaks to the lost luster of serving in Congress.

Meehan said: "As I was considering whether to run, I was considering the job I was presently in, and Joe Kennedy had the same thought: We liked what we were doing and the lifestyle of not being in Congress, of not having to get on a plane every week and go to Washington."

Meehan's $4.8 million his re-election account would have helped in a quick campaign, letting him advertise on television before others had raised their first penny.

But in 2007, he resigned from Congress to become chancellor of his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. His annual salary increased from $165,000 to $280,000, and he got to be home with his wife and two grade-school sons. He now wants to keep all that.

"There's been a trend, unfortunately, away from people running for office, the sacrifices people make in terms of family life, personal finances, the increasing bitterness of the tone of American politics today," he said.

Even before Kennedy died of brain cancer Aug. 25, Attorney General Martha Coakley kicked off her campaign. The Democrat did polling, hired a Washington media consultant, fundraisers, a campaign manager and a spokesman.

And three days after Dec. 8 was set as the primary date and Jan. 19 as the date for the special election, Coakley declared her candidacy.

Ever since, the sound emanating from Boston has been the ruminations of prospective candidates.

"My father called politics an honorable profession, and I have profound respect for those who choose to advance the causes of social and economic justice in elective office," said Joseph Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy.

But, he said, he decided the best way he could contribute to those causes is by continuing his work at a nonprofit organization.

Former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey declined a bid for the Republican nomination by citing her family — even though her two children are still teenagers, as they were when she who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006.

‘A great visibility factor’
Rep. Stephen Lynch and Michael Capuano have both taken out papers for the Democratic nomination and stoked talk of campaigns, but neither has formally declared his candidacy. Capuano is expected to do so this week.

Tierney and Markey initially said they would defer to a Kennedy family member, but Vicki Kennedy immediately ruled out a campaign through intermediaries.

Even after Joseph Kennedy decided against running, Tierney and Markey balked.

Landy said that besides surrendering their seniority, they concluded they would be indistinguishable running against Coakley amid a field of multiple male congressmen.

On the Republican side, Canton selectman Bob Burr has announced a campaign. And state Sen. Scott Brown declared over the weekend, after Card ruled out a campaign. Card, like others, cited his family.

"For someone like Scott Brown, there's a great visibility factor," said Landy. "If he can raise some money, he doesn't have to win. After all, Mitt Romney's great springboard to success was losing to Teddy Kennedy."