Kennedy name looms large in bid to replace late senator

Edward Kennedy's wife or nephew would be instant front-runners in any bid to replace him in the US Senate.

Steven Senne/AP
While walking through a town in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, speaks with Richard Dougherty, of West Long Branch, N.J., who asked Patrick about laws pertaining to the succession of the Senate seat that belonged to Sen. Edward Kennedy.

The question of who will fill Edward Kennedy’s seat in the United States Senate has largely become a waiting game.

Will a Kennedy seek to fill the seat that Senator Kennedy occupied for nearly 47 years?

The two Kennedys seen as most likely to fill the seat – either as a temporary replacement or as a candidate in next year’s special election – are Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the late senator’s wife, and his nephew, Joseph Kennedy II.

Neither has yet expressed interest in the position publicly. But Mrs. Kennedy, known as Vicki, has received public support from her husband’s long-time friends, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah and Chris Dodd (D) of Connecticut.

“Vicki ought to be considered,” Senator Hatch told CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “She’s a very brilliant lawyer.”

“If Vicki wants to do it, I’m in her corner,” Senator Dodd added on the same program. “She expressed to me her own sort of reluctance do that. But she could change her mind. If she did, I’m for her.”

The special election to elect a replacement for Kennedy will take place on Jan. 19, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced Monday. But the Massachusetts legislature is expected to amend the current law to allow for a temporary “caretaker” appointee in the five months before that.

The wife

If it does, it would be “good political manners” to offer Vicki the opportunity to serve in her husband’s place, says Jeffrey Berry, a political scientist at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., speaking before Kennedy’s death.

Vicki has also been praised for her grace and strength after her husband’s death and during his prolonged illness. She greeted mourners outside the John F. Kennedy library for hours on Thursday and has reportedly sent hand-written notes to many who expressed their condolences.

Though Vicki would likely refuse given the timing of the offer, according to Professor Berry, there’s a long history of wives taking over for deceased husbands. Even if she refuses the caretaker position, she could be a contender in the special election.

Still, the Boston Globe reports that Vicki has said she’s not interested in either post, according to a family friend. Governor Patrick added Monday: “Mrs. Kennedy is not interested in the position.”

The nephew

Joe Kennedy, a former US representative, has not given any indication of whether he is interested in his uncle’s job – either temporarily or permanently.

But some are pointing to his speech at his uncle’s wake Friday as evidence that he’s thinking of throwing his hat in the ring.

The Boston Herald quoted an unnamed “Democratic operative” as saying, “After that speech, I thought that’s the best he’s ever given. Based on that, you have to think that he’s thinking about it."

But while Joe Kennedy has more political experience than other Kennedy contenders, including 12 years serving Massachusetts in the US House of Representatives, he also has skeletons in his closet, which could complicate his bid.

Joe left the House in 1999, a year after his ex-wife’s protest against annulling their 12-year marriage forced him to abandon his then-ongoing gubernatorial campaign. He’s also been criticized for his relationship with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, who he has worked with while president of Citizens Energy, a nonprofit company that provides heating oil for low-income families.

Still, it is unclear how that history would impact his campaign, should he decide to make himself eligible for either the interim post or the special election. His candidacy in the special election could also affect the size and shape of the pool running against him.

“His candidacy in a special election would force all other candidates – real or imagined – to think twice about whether they want to take on a Kennedy so close to Senator Kennedy’s death,’’ Dan Payne, a longtime Democratic media consultant, told the Boston Globe.

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