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Kerry Finalized as Secretary of State Nominee

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)

Former Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry will become the next nominee for Secretary of State, replacing Hillary Clinton and creating another Senate vacancy.

President Obama will formally announce the nomination today at the White House, according to sources. He is not expected to face much resistance in the Senate for confirmation. Kerry will likely recuse himself from the confirmation hearings, since they would take place at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs. But there’s no word on when or if Kerry will step down from the Senate, the timing of which triggers a series of vacancy laws in Massachusetts.

Those laws are made to be rewritten, and as I noted the first time this nomination became clear, there is no reason why the Massachusetts legislature will live with a situation where they have to hold a special election for Kerry’s seat within 150 days of him stepping down. On two prior occassions, the mostly Democratic legislature changed their Senate vacancy law for maximum partisan advantage – in 2004, when they reacted to Kerry’s potential elevation to the Presidency and Mitt Romney’s opportunity to name a replacement by creating the quick special election process, and in 2009, when they reacted to Ted Kennedy’s death by allowing for a gubernatorially-selected interim replacement, so Senate Democrats could pass health care. The legislature could simply move out the special election to the time of the next general election in Massachusetts, in this case 2014. That would eliminate the possibility of a quick-strike, short-term campaign, where soon-to-be-former Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, would probably have the advantage, especially if Democratic Governor Deval Patrick did not run. A 2014 election would give time for Democrats to build a campaign with another candidate, and would put the election at the same time as the gubernatorial election and House elections in the state, which would probably change the turnout model. I fully expect this to happen, and Governor Patrick told a local radio show recently that he would sign such a bill.

As for an interim replacement, the intriguing possibility is retiring House mainstay Barney Frank. But there are a number of other options.

I would refer back to my earlier comments about Kerry’s expected performance at the job. He’s a mainstream Democrat who will offer a mainstream, establishment perspective to diplomacy and foreign policy. I don’t see it changing the outcomes all that much.

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David Dayen

David Dayen