By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
---- — BOSTON — Before anyone else can enter an election that hasn’t even been announced yet, Democrats in both Massachusetts and Washington yesterday began coalescing behind U.S. Rep. Edward Markey’s fledgling candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
A flurry of afternoon endorsements backing the 18-term House member appeared to be an attempt to clear the field of challenges from both inside and outside the political establishment and avoid a fractious primary that could damage the party’s chances of retaining the seat, particularly if U.S. Sen. Scott Brown decides to run again.
A day after Markey announced that he would run to replace U.S. Sen. John Kerry provided the senior senator is confirmed as secretary of state, both Kerry and Vicki Kennedy threw their support behind Markey. Another possible candidate, U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, said she would not mount a Senate campaign.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado also endorsed Markey.
Kerry offered glowing praise for Markey in a statement that stopped just short of endorsing the congressman and made mention of the sensitivity around Kerry’s involvement in the race to succeed him.
“While I began last week to formally step out of politics and it’s very important that I respect the apolitical nature of the post I hope to soon occupy, as Massachusetts’ senior senator today and as a colleague of Ed Markey’s for 28 years, I’m excited to learn of and support his decision to run for the United States Senate,” Kerry said.
“Ed’s one of the most experienced and capable legislators in the entire Congress and it would be an almost unprecedented occasion for such an accomplished legislator to join the Senate able to hit the ground running on every issue of importance to Massachusetts.”
The difference between supporting Markey’s “decision to run” and a full-throated endorsement may be minor. A Kerry aide said the senator would be voting for Markey.
Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy who is rumored to be a possible interim appointee to the Senate until a special election can be held, also threw her support behind Markey, calling him “the best person to continue in the tradition of John Kerry.”
“Ed is the dean of the Massachusetts delegation and has been an exceptional congressman for his district. He’s respected nationally for his energetic leadership on issues relating to the environment, energy and technology,” Kennedy said in a statement circulated shortly after Kerry’s.
“He has the experience and expertise to address the pressing economic issues facing our nation. He knows how to get things done. He will bring proven experience in the workings of Congress to his service in the Senate, and that is an enormous asset and benefit for the people of Massachusetts. Ed Markey is the right person for the job. He will be a superb senator for Massachusetts,”
Markey was the first to openly declare his intention to run for the seat, not waiting for Kerry’s confirmation — the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Kerry heads up, did not respond to requests for information yesterday about Kerry’s confirmation hearing.
Markey is not the only member of the delegation who has been considering a campaign for Kerry’s seat.
U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Somerville, who ran and finished second in a four-way primary for Senate in 2009, is expected to make his decision within the coming days, and U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Boston, has been telling labor leaders and supporters that he was leaning toward a run for Senate.
U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas of Lowell considered her own campaign to follow in the footsteps of her late husband, but announced yesterday that she would not seek the seat after being elected to her third full term in November.
“I am gratified by the encouragement I have received to consider running for the Senate, but I believe that I can best advance the interests of my constituents in the Third Congressional District and the people of Massachusetts by continuing to serve in the U.S. House,” Tsongas said in a statement.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, is also openly exploring his own run for the Senate seat, though Downing’s path to the Democratic nomination is probably dependent, in part, on a multi-person race to carve up the votes in and around Boston that outnumber Downing’s base in the Berkshires.
Markey brings a significant financial advantage to the race with more than $3.1 million in his federal campaign finance account that could be put toward a Senate run, more than Lynch ($740,000) Capuano ($491,000) or Brown ($464,000) had as of the end of November.
Kerry credited Markey with authoring and passing a “visionary energy bill” to address climate change, and called him an expert on the Internet and telecommunications and new energy economies, a leader on nuclear weapons issues and “thoughtful protector” of the environment.
“Ed’s upbringing in Malden and his service as the dean of our delegation means he knows in his heart and in his head just what is important to every corner of our state. He’s passionate about the issues that Ted Kennedy and I worked on as a team for decades, whether it’s health care or the environment and energy or education,” Kerry said.
“He’s gutsy and tough, smart and sharp, a workhorse in Congress who has never forgotten where he came from or who sent him to Washington.”