A half-dozen Democratic activists hustled Monday to line up support for their campaigns to become the next chair of the state party, after its current leader, Thomas McGee, said he would not seek a second term.
The field of potential candidates doubled Monday, as McGee’s announcement encouraged a new crop of hopefuls to consider taking a shot at the open seat – which historically has been filled by the back-room machinations of party power brokers, not with a contested election.
“The race is on,” said one likely candidate, David O’Brien, a longtime political operative and Democratic National Committee member.
Three candidates said they were formal candidates.
A former candidate for lieutenant governor, Stephen J. Kerrigan, announced his bid in an e-mail to supporters.
Democratic National Committee member and longtime operative Gus Bickford said he, too, would run.
And Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff sought to take credit for taking on McGee, who had been criticized by some committee members for not sufficiently challenging Republican Governor Charlie Baker, before others had joined the cause.
“I was clearly in before anybody else,” Duff said.
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins said he was talking to committee members and would probably decide within a week.
“I’m not saying that I’m going to do it, but I have to take a look at it,” Tompkins said, adding that he started getting calls Sunday night after the news about McGee broke.
Several others were still gauging support, should they decide to run.
Kerrigan’s entrance formalized an effort he had discussed with members last week. Former Fitchburg mayor Lisa Wong reportedly is also considering a run.
The state committee is scheduled to vote on its new leader Nov. 14. But on Monday, some members began discussing the idea of postponing that election, freeing up activists to focus on the presidential race.
While Massachusetts is not traditionally a battleground state, it is a major exporter of political operatives — particularly Democrats — in presidential elections.
“The challenge to this thing is we’re all involved in a much bigger election right now,” O’Brien said.
A crowded field for the party chairmanship has been unusual in recent transfers of power.
“Historically, the party chairmanships have been worked out in advance . . . and that’s to avoid a highly contentious, divisive kind of election,” said former state party chair Philip W. Johnston, a close ally of the late US senator Edward M. Kennedy.
Echoing other Democrats, Johnston attributed the frenzy, at least in part, to the party’s lack of a dominant figure since Deval Patrick left the governor’s office after an eight-year reign that started in 2006. US Senator Elizabeth Warren would be a natural choice but has evinced little interest in getting into the weeds of state party politics.
On Monday, Johnston said, “The reason it wasn’t resolved before this morning is the fact that we don’t have a Democratic governor and we don’t have people in the congressional delegation who are interested in playing a strong role with the party.”