In Mass., a senate race narrows

The race to succeed Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, expected to be confirmed as Secretary of State, got a little smaller today.

Congressman Michael Capuano, a Somerville Democrat, announced he won't be running in the special election for the soon-to-be-vacated seat. That leaves Congressman Ed Markey, backed by Kerry and other leading Democrats, and Congressman Stephen Lynch as the likely bold-name contenders for the party's nomination.

Capuano's departure leaves a hole of a certain size in the race. The feisty pol ran in the 2010 special election to replace Senator Ted Kennedy, losing in the Democratic primary to establishment candidate Martha Coakley. And more than one observer thought his plucky, blue-collar image might have played better than Coakley's patrician remove air in the general election fight with Republican everyman Scott Brown.

Brown, of course, won that race. And after losing a re-election bid to Democrat Elizabeth Warren this past fall, he is seen as a likely - though not definite - GOP candidate for Kerry's seat.

So with Capuano out, are Democrats repeating the mistakes of 2010? Will the establishment candidate, once again, provide a lackluster challenge to Brown?

I'm not so sure.

Lynch, if he manages to win the election, will bring a blue-collar patina to the race. And a Markey-Brown matchup seems unlikely to follow the 2010 pattern. Brown's first victory had much to do with the element of surprise, after all.

And Warren showed, this fall, that a less-than-charismatic policy wonk can beat Brown.

Markey, moreover, has demonstrated an early appreciation for the lessons of the last two Brown races: his announcement was brimming with tough partisanship.

Of course, the Democratic nominee will not have President Obama at the top of the ticket to drive liberals to the polls; Brown can still win this thing. But I'm not convinced the blue team will miss Capuano's street-fighting ways so much.

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