Massachusetts Democratic circles are abuzz with speculation in the wake of the sudden withdrawal of US Rep. Edward J. Markey from a campaign for the United States Senate.
The fourth-term congressman, who instead of trying to move up the elective ladder now will seek reelection to the House, has become perhaps best known nationally as a leading critic of nuclear weapons.
Explaining that personal considerations rather than political motives influenced his decision to drop out of the Senate race, Mr. Markey stated he feels he can be more effective on the antinuclear front by staying in the House.
While generally viewed as one of the front-runners for the Senate seat being vacated at year's end by fellow Democrat Paul E. Tsongas, prospects for even winning the nomination were at best uncertain.
THe surprise move, which has sent shock waves down the Bay State political campaign ladder, narrows the field of Democratic senatorial candidates to six, including US Rep. James M. Shannon, who has the backing of US House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr.
At least partly influencing Markey's decision to get out of the Senate race may have been his distant second-place finish, behind Congressman Shannon, at an April 28 gathering of mostly Democratic liberals from across the state.
Although Markey has made it clear he will not throw his weight behind any of his former senatorial rivals, focusing instead on winning reelection to the House, many of his supporters are expected to be doing so in the coming weeks.
Within minutes of the withdrawal announcement, Lt. Gov. John F. Kerry, Secretary of State Michael Joseph Connolly, and Congressman Shannon were mapping strategy to reach out for backing from Markey activists.
Also still in the running for the Democratic nomination for the Tsongas seat are David M. Bartley, a former speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and now president of Holyoke Community College; William Hebert, former president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association; and John Pierce Lynch, a former register of deeds in Hampden County.
Only those candidates receiving 15 percent of the delegate support at the June 9 Democratic convention, however, can compete in the party's September primary. At least three, and perhaps four, contenders are expected to make it onto that ballot.
Senator Tsongas, whose unexpected mid-January announcement that he would not seek reelection unleashed a near-stampede among would-be successors, has indicated he intends to endorse nobody until after the party primary.
The Democratic senatorial nominee will square off in November against either Elliot L. Richardson or Raymond L. Shamie, who are expected to compete for the Republican nomination in the September GOP state primary.
Markey's move may have caused more than a bit of political friction within the party, which could cost him votes, if not his House seat.
Two of the four candidates who had declared for the apparent congressional opening in the Massachusetts Seventh District now have abandoned such aspirations and are instead running for their current seats in the state legislature.
But State Rep. Michael Barrett and former State Sen. Samuel Rotondi have no intention of dropping out and could provide a formidable challenge.
Much could hinge on the extent to which the Markey move May 1, hours before the deadline for legislative candidates to file their nomination papers, may have alienated voters in the Seventh District.