Ted Kennedy's Death to Spark Senate Scramble

Kennedy legacy -- and maybe a Kennedy -- loom over rare open Mass. Senate seat.

ByABC News
August 27, 2009, 6:14 PM

Aug. 27, 2009— -- The death of Sen. Ted Kennedy is likely to set off a political frenzy in his home state -- with a generation's worth of ambitious politicians expected to seriously consider pursuing the first open Senate seat in Massachusetts in a quarter-century.

The race in the heavily Democratic state will be a five-month sprint that may pit some of the Bay State's most prominent politicians and political families against each other.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are seriously considering complying with the senator's dying wish: that his seat be filled in the interim by a Democrat, who won't run for election, to fill out the rest of his Senate term, which runs through 2012.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said on "Good Morning America" today that allowing him to make an interim appointment is a "reasonable request."

"I think that the senator's made a very reasonable request," Patrick said. "I support the idea of a special election, which is provided for in our current law and the senator did as well. Now, having said that, I have to say that our first thoughts today are on the life and the extraordinary achievements of the senator."

Possible candidates for the seat include Kennedy's widow, Vicki; the senator's nephew, Joe; Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., whose late husband once held Massachusetts' other Senate seat; the state's popular attorney general, Martha Coakley; and several veteran House members who've been waiting years or even decades for a chance to advance politically.

When asked about a potential Senate successor and whether he would like to see a member of the Kennedy clan claim the seat, the governor refused to bite.

"Those are very personal decisions and, you know, we've got ... so much political talent in Massachusetts and have, historically, in the family and beyond," Patrick said. "I know there's a lot of interest ... in this seat, but, again, I think almost everybody who is interested in this seat, and beyond, is focused mainly right now on grieving the loss of a giant."

Among the multitude of ways Sen. Kennedy's death leaves a void: For the first time in more than half a century, a major post will be filled in Massachusetts without clear leadership from one of the nation's most enduring political dynasties.

Visit ABC News' special section on Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Watch video of historic Kennedy moments.

Yet the Kennedy legacy will loom over the race -- both in the memories of the man who served the commonwealth for 47 years and, quite possibly, in the presence of a close Kennedy relative who decides to try to pick up the family torch.

"It's not just a Kennedy vacating the job -- it's a Senate seat in Massachusetts, and these do not come along but maybe once in a lifetime," said Dan Payne, a veteran Boston-based Democratic consultant.

Under existing law, the Senate seat will not be filled until a special election is held, as long as 160 days from now. That's because of a legal change Democrats forced through five years ago to deny then-Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, the chance to name a successor to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., if he had won the presidency.