The decision by Edward M. Kennedy Jr. on Monday to pass on a run for US Senate in Massachusetts in 2013 eliminates one of the few Democrats with the star power to ward off serious challengers within his own party, increasing the odds of a tough Democratic primary fight that could damage the eventual nominee.
Three Democratic congressmen, Edward Markey of Malden, Michael Capuano of Somerville, and Stephen Lynch of South Boston, have signaled interest in running for the Senate in a special election, for a seat expected to open with the nomination of Senator John Kerry to lead the State Department. None of the congressmen has declared a run.
“I think people were waiting to see what Teddy would do,” said Philip W. Johnston, a former chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.
Kennedy, 51, a Connecticut lawyer and son of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, confirmed Monday that he would not be a candidate in the Bay State, which his father represented in Washington for nearly 50 years.
“As a health care lawyer and disability rights activist who was raised to believe in public service, I have always had an interest in public policy development, advocacy, and political action,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Although I have a strong desire to serve in public office, I consider Connecticut to be my home, and hope to have the honor to serve at another point in my future.”
A source familiar with his decision said Kennedy did not want to uproot his family and that he was uncomfortable about moving from Connecticut to Massachusetts to run. The source also said that officials in Connecticut had urged him to stay and run there eventually.
Kerry, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate as the next secretary of state. Under Massachusetts law, Governor Deval Patrick will appoint a temporary senator to fill Kerry’s seat, and the state will hold a special election in 145 to 160 days — probably around June — to fill the remainder of Kerry’s term, which runs through 2014.
Republican US Senator Scott Brown, defeated in November by Democrat Elizabeth Warren, is a potential candidate in 2013. Brown won his seat in a 2010 special election after Senator Kennedy died in office. Brown has not said if he will run again; his 2012 campaign manager, Jim Barnett, could not be reached for comment.
Democrats worry that Brown would be difficult to beat in another special election, in which turnout would probably be far lower than 2012, which included a presidential race. Warren topped Brown by eight percentage points.
“It’s a question of whether you get a turnout skewed to small towns and rural areas of Massachusetts, which is what Brown had in 2010,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist who studies US Senate races. “Or the traditional Democratic vote, which ousted Brown and elected Warren.”
Jennifer Duffy, an analyst for The Cook Political Report, said that Kennedy Jr. was “by no means the only Democrat who could win,” though his famous political name would have given him a head start. Another Kennedy often mentioned as a potential candidate, the senator’s widow, Vicki Kennedy, has given no sign she is interested in running.
Without a Kennedy in the race, “I think the immediate impact is a crowded and messy primary,” said Duffy. “A messy primary bodes well for Brown, assuming he runs, as it may produce a bruised nominee.”
One other potential candidate for Democrats, former US Representative Martin Meehan, of Lowell, on Monday shot down speculation that he would run for the Senate in 2013. Meehan, who still has $4.7 million in his campaign account after serving in the House from 1993-2007, is chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“Things are going really, really well and I’m fully engaged in the transformation of UMass Lowell,” Meehan said in an interview. “I’m really not interested [in running for Senate]. I think the Congress is pretty dysfunctional right now. It’s not appealing to want to be part of the dysfunction.”
Meehan said that Brown would be tough to beat if he runs again. “Democrats should try to unite behind a candidate because I think a divisive primary would be very difficult for Democrats,” said Meehan.
Johnston suggested that Markey, first elected in 1976, would be the likely nominee if he decides to run, and would bring “experience and formidable resources” to the campaign. “It seems to me the other potential candidates are now awaiting his decision.”
A spokesperson for Markey had “nothing new to report” on Monday. A Capuano statement said that “the congressman is spending the holidays with friends and family, he will continue talking with them about his future plans,” which is almost exactly the same statement he issued last week. A Lynch spokesperson could not be reached.
Sitting members of the US House have particular incentive to seek the Senate seat in a 2013 special election — if they were to lose, they would still be members of Congress, able to run for reelection as highly favored incumbents in 2014.With reports from Frank Phillips. Mark Arsenault can be reached at Marsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark