John Kerry Nomination Could Create Musical Chairs for Scott Brown in Senate

Original Post Dec. 13th; Updated 2:46 pm. ET, Dec. 21

The news that President Obama plans to nominate Massachusetts Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State isn't just good news for Kerry, it's also good news for out-going Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.

Brown, who lost his re-election to Elizabeth Warren, is widely expected to seek out his old job and he would be viewed as a strong contender, particularly in a special election to fill Kerry's vacancy. Republicans have a tendency to perform better in special elections, which draw many fewer voters.

But it would be at least six months - assuming that Kerry is confirmed as Secretary of State, which he is expected to be- and assuming that Brown wins a special election - before he could re-join the Senate.

Massachusetts law dictates that a special election cannot take place sooner than 145 days from the time an out-going Congress member's resignation is effective, meaning that at least 145 days must pass between the date that member actually leaves their job and the date that the special occurs. At this juncture in time, even if Kerry has an incredibly quick confirmation at the beginning of the next Congress, the earliest conceivable date to reach this mark is in June, 2013.

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The special cannot occur more than 160 days from the time that the resignation is effective.

Gov. Deval Patrick is likely to appoint a replacement to fill Kerry's seat in the interim period. Former Massachusetts Gov. and presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, as well as Vicki Kennedy, the widow of Ted Kennedy, are on Patrick's list, according to reports.

Brown's victory in a special election would not be a sure thing. Although he leaves office with high approval ratings- exit polls from the 2012 election showed him with a favor-ability rating of 60 percent- but Massachusetts is a solidly Democratic state, and there are many Democrats in elected office in the state who could challenge Brown.

There's even been a celebrity named as a possible Democratic contender for the seat. Ben Affleck, who is from Cambridge, has been mentioned as a possible candidate. Affleck himself has been coy on the possibility. "Well, one never knows. I'm not one to get into conjecture," he said in a recent interview on CBS's "Face the Nation."

In an odd twist of political gamesmanship, the law requiring a special election instead of an appointment from the Governor in the event of a vacant seat was passed by Democrats passed in Massachusetts in 2004 in case Kerry resigned if he won the presidency. He did not. But Democrats at the time were trying to take the appointment power away from the sitting Republican governor- Mitt Romney.