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No Ben Affleck? That's OK, Massachusetts Senate race still poised to be big.

If John Kerry's seat needs to be filled next year, it will be the fourth time Massachusetts voters have chosen Senate candidates in a six-year period. Actor-director Ben Affleck said Monday he won't run.

By Staff writer / December 26, 2012

Sen. John Kerry D-Mass., speaks with actor Ben Affleck during a meeting with foreign relations members to discus the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday.

Jose Luis Magana/AP

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Massachusetts seems to have a thing about Senate races. The state is holding elections more often than usual for US Senate seats, and in ways that garner the national spotlight.

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First, remember what's typical under the US Constitution: Each state has two Senate seats, with each coming up for election every six years, on a staggered schedule.

Then, think about this string of events: Massachusetts residents appear poised to cast ballots for the US Senate four times in a six-year period, or twice the typical pace. John Kerry (D) won a reelection vote in 2008. Then, after the passing of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D), the state held a special election in early 2010 that drew national attention with Scott Brown's surprise Republican victory.

Then came the epic battle, just concluded last month, in which Elizabeth Warren took that seat back for Democrats. Now, a few weeks later, with President Obama nominating Senator Kerry to be his next secretary of State, the stage is set for another high-profile special election in the new year.

Mr. Brown, a winner in 2010 and a loser in 2012, may be back as a Republican candidate in 2013.

He won't be running against Ben Affleck. The actor-director on Monday took his name off the list of possible Democratic contenders.

But whoever ends up running, assuming that Kerry is confirmed as secretary of State, the race is sure to be a magnet for media attention and money. It would be one of the few opportunities in 2013 for voters to have a say about who sits in Congress at a time of hot fiscal debates and narrow division of power between parties.

Back in 2010, Brown's upset win foreshadowed the conservative gains later that year that would tip the House of Representatives back into Republican control. This time around, the race could become, in part, an early verdict on the performance of both parties on things like tax rates, budget deficits, and how to keep programs like Medicare and Social Security financially healthy.

Whoever wins would have to turn around and start campaigning all over again pretty quickly, since the seat is up for a scheduled vote in 2014.

How did Massachusetts get into this flurry of Senate activity?

Yes, the answer involves the death of one senator and the appointment of another to a presidential cabinet post. But it's also about decisions made in the State House in Boston about how to handle such vacancies.

Some 36 states let the governor wield the power of appointment to fill a Senate vacancy – even if the unexpired term has years to run.

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