But Kennedy. who died Tuesday at age 77, sent a letter to state lawmakers last week asking them to change the law again, this time to provide for a temporary replacement until the special election is held. After some initial hesitation, Patrick, the Democratic governor, and key legislative leaders support his dying wish.
"I don't think the Democrats should apologize for making sure that Sen. Kennedy's wishes are fulfilled," Phil Johnston, a Kennedy family friend and former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, said Wednesday on ABCNews.com's "Top Line."
Given the outpouring of emotions surrounding Kennedy's death at the age of 77, the campaign to succeed him is unlikely to begin in earnest for several weeks.
The compressed timetable will boost the chances of candidates who are well-known and have the capacity to raise cash in a hurry. That's an automatic advantage to any candidate named Kennedy.
Prominent Democrats in Massachusetts see one possible heir to the seat in the senator's 55-year-old widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, a lawyer who married into the Kennedy clan in 1992. The Boston Globe reported last week that she has told associates she's not interested in coming to the Senate. But other observers insist that she'd at least consider an interim appointment, or could be talked into running for the seat.
Vicki Kennedy has grown increasingly involved in the operations of her husband's political and Senate operations in recent years. She developed into something of a guardian of the Ted Kennedy legacy in the months of his long decline.
"The senator has been grooming her," one prominent Massachusetts Democrat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "When it comes to the Senate seat, business is business. The only way to ensure the legacy is to have his wife take the seat."
Several well-connected Democrats say several other high-profile potential candidates would be likely to defer to Vicki Kennedy if she decides to run. The mere possibility of her candidacy could freeze in place several other hopefuls, particularly during a mourning period in which she would be unlikely to announce her intentions.
Still, Vicki Kennedy has never been particularly close to her husband's family, or to the legions of Kennedy loyalists and once and current staff members who populate Massachusetts politics.
Should Vicki Kennedy decide not to run, another possible candidate would be Joseph P. Kennedy II, the eldest son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Ted's older brother. Joe Kennedy, 56, represented Massachusetts in the House of Representatives for six terms until 1999 and now runs the nonprofit Citizens Energy Corp.
Any Kennedy in the race would affect the interest level of other Democrats, and could scare off other would-be Democratic challengers.
One Democrat who is expected to run, regardless, is Coakley, the state's first-term attorney general, who, polls suggest, is one of the most popular politicians in the state. As Massachusetts' only female, statewide officeholder, she would stand out in a crowded primary field, although she'd start from scratch in terms of fundraising for federal office.