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Could a Republican win Kennedy’s Senate seat?

Democrats dominate in Massachusetts, but a small GOP field, possibly including Andrew Card from the Bush administration, will try for the seat.

By Tracey D. SamuelsonContributor / September 10, 2009


Boston

Any Republican candidate looking to fill Sen. Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat isn't exactly in friendly territory. Massachusetts is perhaps the strongest one-party state in the US, with registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans 3 to 1.

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But the race might get more interesting if Andrew Card, chief of staff under President George W. Bush, declares his candidacy.

Mr. Card, who also served as secretary of Transportation under George H.W. Bush, said Wednesday he is “thinking very seriously” about running, according to the Associated Press.

Until Wednesday, it looked as though the GOP would be hard pressed to even field a viable candidate. The only declared candidate is Bob Burr – a local selectman from a small town outside Boston. Former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey – who has name recognition because of her 2006 run for governor – opted out of the race, citing family reasons. Christy Mihos, who is currently running for governor, was thought to be a possible candidate before announcing Wednesday that he will stay in the gubernatorial race.

State Sen. Scott Brown is “testing the waters” for a campaign. But his candidacy would probably be more about gaining exposure and name recognition for future campaigns, says Dan Payne, a Democratic media consultant. Senator Brown has said he’ll stand aside if Card proceeds with his candidacy.

But even with Card, Republican candidates are likely to struggle. There’s been a groundswell of support for Senator Kennedy after his death last month, and he’s received widespread praise for his work in the Senate and for his ability to get things done for Massachusetts. All this will make it difficult for a Republican to lay claim to the seat.

“This seat will be decided in the [Democratic] primary,” Mr. Payne says. “There will be a general election, but it won’t matter. No Republican will win the Kennedy seat.”

Indeed, GOP candidates face an uphill battle. “Any Republican is the underdog,” says Todd Domke, a Massachusetts-based GOP strategist. In the eyes of many Massachusetts voters, Card’s work in the Bush White House is a strike against him. To succeed, he’ll have to make a strong break from Mr. Bush, Mr. Domke says.

But Card’s political experience on the national level could also be a help: He can claim connections and influence in Washington similar to Kennedy’s, although on the other side of the aisle.

“The issue of clout could very well be the dominant one in this election,” Domke says. “Depending on who the Democrats nominate, [Card] could argue he would be more effective in working for the state.”

Still, Massachusetts has not sent a Republican to the Senate since Edward Brooke, who lost a bid for reelection in 1978. Moreover, Senator Brooke was hardly a conservative role model. A self-described moderate, he voted against two of President Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees, and he was the first senator to call for his resignation.

Massachusetts has been more tolerant of GOP gubernatorial candidates, with Republicans occupying the governor’s office from 1991 to 2007. That support, however, is seen more as the voters’ desire to put a check on a Democrat-dominated state legislature than as support for the Republican Party.

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