Massachusetts Republicans got a glimmer of hope this morning after days of rejections from heavy-hitting politicians weighing possible runs in the state's upcoming special election. Republican state Rep. Dan Winslow said today he is forming an exploratory committee for the U.S. Senate seat vacated when John Kerry went to head the State Department.
"Today I'm taking the necessary steps to form an exploratory committee to test the waters for the U.S. Senate," Winslow said in a statement on his website. "We need to fix a broken Washington where progress is being hampered by partisan gridlock."
This is the closest a Republican has gotten to throwing his or hat in the ring after a series of higher profile GOP leaders in the state announced that they would be staying away from the race.
Former Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who was seen as the likely front-runner for the GOP nomination, announced last week that he would be sitting out this round. His announcement seemed to open the floodgates for Republicans, kicking off a series of similar decisions from officials thought to be strong options for their party: Former Gov. William Weld, former state Senate minority leader Richard Tisei, former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey and Tagg Romney, the eldest son of Mitt Romney, have all said thanks but no thanks to the special election
As for what's behind the steady stream of rejections, bottom line: It's a steep hill to climb.
Any candidate will need to gather 10,000 signatures before the end of February. That's a lot of names to gather in a short period of time, but presumably would not have been difficult for well-known candidates like Brown or Weld. Another concern is timing.
Massachusetts state law stipulates that the winner of the special election will fill out the rest of the term of the individual whom they were elected to replace. And John Kerry would have been up for re-election in November 2014, meaning that whoever wins that seat in June will face another election in just 17 months.
That might not be a huge concern for Democrats in the state, but it is for Republicans. If a Republican candidate were to win the special election, there's a strong slate of potential Democrats who could mount a strong challenge in 2014, including Rep. Joe Kennedy III and Gov. Deval Patrick, who is serving his last term in "the corner office" (what Massachusettsians call the governor's office.)
Not only would these candidates have strong backing from national Democrats, who would view the seat as one of their best chances for a pick-up, they would also have the basic benefit of being a Democrat in a blue state in a general election.
The upshot is that scheduling makes this a tough sell for Republicans. There's also a strong possibility that many in the party were just caught off guard when the man they thought would get in -- Scott Brown -- said no (via text message to a Boston Herald reporter).
The state Republican Party is "optimistic" about the upcoming race, pointing to the party's recent success in special elections.
"The party is optimistic for the special Senate election," Massachusetts GOP communications director Tim Buckley said. "Republicans in Massachusetts shocked the world in 2010 and Scott Brown proved a state representative or a state senator, a hard working Republican candidate with the best interest of Massachusetts in mind can win state wide."