Scott Brown’s 2010 Senate victory dispelled a lot of myths about Massachusetts — that Republicans couldn’t win statewide races for anything but governor; that lesser-known candidates couldn’t raise enough money to compete in a state full of heavyweights; and that a politician with a conservative message, tailored to the challenges of the moment, would never be able to get traction in a liberal electorate.
Brown’s victory turned out to be shorter-lived than he would have liked: He lost a bruising Senate race to Elizabeth Warren in November, in a national climate that turned out to be far friendlier to liberals than many people imagined. No doubt the strains of that long campaign contributed to his decision not to run again, this time for the year and a half remaining of John Kerry’s term, in a contest many thought Brown could win. Now the question is: Will other viable Republicans step forward to make the race?
For the good of the Commonwealth, they should. Having a competitive Senate race in 2012 benefited the state in many respects, especially after Brown and Warren reached an agreement to keep super PACs off the airwaves and to frame the issues themselves. The stiff competition surely played a role in keeping Brown responsive to Massachusetts voters during his time in office, and in making the political novice Warren more attuned to the needs of her adopted state. It would truly be a shame if, in the wake of her 7-point victory last November, the state returned to its pre-2010 pattern of rubber-stamp senatorial elections.
After Brown’s announcement, several Republicans, including former state Senator Richard Tisei, said they would explore the possibility of a Senate race. Former Governor William Weld and former Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey have also been mentioned as potential candidates. Each should give it careful consideration. The challenges to a Senate race are obvious: A lot of fundraising over a very short time, while pulling together a campaign team and message in time for a primary election in just three months. Then, if a candidate prevails in the June election, he or she will pretty much have to start campaigning all over again for reelection next year.
But President Obama’s decision to nominate Kerry as secretary of state opened a rare opportunity for political advancement, and aspiring public servants of both parties would be foolish not to take advantage of it. A Senate seat, after all, is an honor in any political climate. More importantly, just by running, candidates will be performing a service to their state, ensuring the voters have real choices and hear a rigorous discussion of the issues.