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State senator from western Mass. thinks he could benefit from divisive US Senate primary race

As three congressmen from eastern Massachusetts weigh potential candidacies in a US Senate special election campaign, one state senator from the extreme western part of the state thinks he may be able to replicate what Scott Brown did nearly three years ago.

State Senator Benjamin Downing

Courtesy photo

Democratic state Senator Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield
thinks that if there is a divisive party primary in any campaign to replace US Senator John F. Kerry, US Representatives Stephen F. Lynch, Michael E. Capuano, and Edward J. Markey could carve up the more populous Boston area and give him the opportunity to win the nomination by holding the entirety of his current district in the Berkshires.

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Those votes alone would not be enough to become the nominee, one top adviser conceded to the Globe, but the 31-year-old Downing could also make inroads in the east - especially among younger voters - with his relative youth and contrast to the more veteran congressmen.

At least in theory.

Downing has joined Lynch, Capuano, and Markey as the least-known among a group of Democrats gearing up for a possible race. Brown, too, has hinted he would run for the Republican nomination.

While he lost his reelection campaign in November to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, like Downing he was a state senator when he won over voters with his hustle, fresh face, and vows to be independent during a similarly short special election campaign in 2010 to replace the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

A reprisal is possible after various news organizations reported over the weekend that President Obama had settled on Kerry to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state, despite withholding a formal announcement.

The Globe said the delay is partly due to continued vetting and shuffling among other second-term national security team selections, as well as the need to weigh gender and racial diversity concerns before unveiling the new team.

Obama is due to leave Washington on Friday for his annual Christmas vacation in Hawaii, setting a soft deadline for any announcement. The president also remains immersed in “fiscal cliff” negotiations that could also delay his departure.

An appointment for Kerry would trigger a special election to replace him. It would be held 145 days to 160 days from the effective date of Kerry’s resignation. In the interim, Governor Deval Patrick would appoint a caretaker senator.

Asked last week by the Statehouse News Service whether he would be ready to launch a statewide campaign on short notice, Downing said, “I think so.”

Downing is the oldest son of the late Berkshire District Attorney Gerard Downing. He graduated from Providence College in 2003 and received a masters in urban and environmental policy and planning from Tufts University in 2008.

He previously served three congressmen: US Representatives William Delahunt, Richard Neal, and John Olver.

He now represents 48 communities in the Berkshire, Hampshire, and Franklin District, which runs eastward from the entire border between Massachusetts and New York. The district will grow by four more communities in January, when legislative redistricting takes effect.

Downing was first elected to the Legislature in 2006. He was reelected last month to his fourth term.

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.
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