The confetti has barely been swept off the floor, but Massachusetts could be headed for yet another Senate race.
Just days after the end of a grueling campaign, potential candidates are quietly scrambling to position themselves to run for Senator John F. Kerry’s seat if President Obama appoints Kerry to be his next secretary of state, or secretary of defense.
A Senate vacancy would probably create a comeback scenario for Senator Scott Brown, the Republican who lost the seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in last week’s election. He has sent clear signals in his concession speech and in recent interviews that he has an eye on another run.
“I’m hopeful we’ll be a more tolerant, open-minded party,” Brown said Tuesday, in his first postelection meeting with reporters in Washington. “I plan to continue to play a role of some sort. I don’t know what yet.”
Among the high-profile Democratic officeholders who are expressing interest are three of the state’s congressmen: Edward J. Markey of Malden, the 66-year old dean of the congressional delegation; Michael E. Capuano of Somerville, who ran second to Martha Coakley in the 2009 Senate primary; and Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston, a conservative Democrat who won his seat in a 2001 special election in which several liberals divided the vote on the left.
US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who has gained the attention of the political world by prosecuting former speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, has also been mentioned as a potential candidate, despite her lack of electoral experience.
But those hoping for a rematch between Coakley and Brown could be disappointed. Coakley has not ruled out a run, but insiders said she would not be a Democratic favorite after her poor performance in the 2010 special election.
Brown’s improbable victory in that election to fill Edward M. Kennedy’s seat propelled him to national fame and strong popularity in Massachusetts. Polls taken just before he lost to Warren last Tuesday showed he remained popular throughout the race, even though Warren won by eight percentage points.
If Kerry vacates the seat he has held since 1985, Governor Deval Patrick is required to appoint an interim senator until a special election is held to fill the post between 145 and 160 days after the vacancy.
A full election would be held in late 2014, when Kerry’s term expires.
The law does not prohibit an interim Senate appointee from running for a full term. However, after Kennedy’s death in 2009, Patrick bowed to political pressure and demanded that interim Senator Paul Kirk not become a candidate.
Patrick said Tuesday he has not decided whether he will make a similar demand if he has to fill a vacancy in Kerry’s seat. Some Democrats believe that allowing an interim senator to run for the seat would spare the party a divisive and expensive primary. But if a representative were to be appointed, he or she would have to resign from the House.
Republican campaign strategist Rob Gray said possible candidates will probably decide whether to run based on two key questions: Will Brown run again? And will Patrick forbid a temporary appointee from entering the race?
“All the players in any potential race will wait for those two decisions before making their own,’’ Gray said.
Patrick said Tuesday he has not made any decisions about what restrictions he would put on an appointee, though he argued it would be difficult for a temporary senator to carry out the duties of the office while running a fast-paced campaign.
“It’s too soon to say what I’m going to do since we don’t have a vacancy yet,” Patrick said. “I’m not going to make any plans or promises until I have some information.”
Patrick did say, as he has in the past, that he would not appoint himself to the seat or run for it. “No, no I’m not going,” he said.
The governor said the swirling possibility of another Senate race did not come up for discussion during his dinner with Obama at the White House on Friday. He said 14 people attended — he declined to name them — and the menu included salad, steak, and kale from the White House garden.
“It was a social event,” the governor said. “It was a lot of fun — people telling stories about the last year or so, and looking ahead, and talking about families. It was friends having an evening together.”
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, discussed the dinner during a briefing in Washington on Tuesday, but declined to address speculation that it might mean Patrick is being eyed for a job in the Obama administration.
“I have nothing to say about hypothetical personnel moves,” Carney said.
Two other high-profile Democrats who insiders say would make the strongest candidates are telling party leaders they will not seek an open seat: Joseph P. Kennedy II, former US representative, and Martin Meehan, former US representative and currently chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Markey, Capuano, and Lynch confirmed to the Globe on Tuesday that they would give serious consideration to running if Kerry vacates the seat. Markey, first elected in 1976, ran once for Senate in 1984, but dropped out before the primary and ran again for his House seat.
If Brown decided not to run, Republicans could prevail on William F. Weld, former governor, to try to win the seat. His campaign to oust Kerry from the post in 1996 was one of the state’s epic political battles. Weld’s recent return to Massachusetts from New York City sparked some speculation that the 67-year-old, once a popular figure, might reenter politics. But those close to the former governor say he would defer to Brown.
Beyond Weld and Brown, the thin Republican bench includes Richard Tisei, former Senate minority leader, who narrowly lost a challenge to US Representative John F. Tierney last week, and Kerry Healey, former lieutenant governor.
Brown, however, remains the top contender. His confidants were speculating about the possibility of a run for Kerry’s seat last week, before Brown even lost his own.
“It’s basically Scott’s call,” said Representative Daniel B. Winslow, who was the chief attorney for Brown’s 2010 campaign.
This is a speculative period in any potential election, a moment that typically encourages flurries of political insiders to attach their friends’ names — and even their own names — to rumors.
“I wouldn’t rule anything out,” Khazei said. “I had an extraordinary experience running for US Senate in Massachusetts. It’s a real privilege.”
Some big names in both parties are said to be interested in running for governor in 2014, not for the Senate next year. Those figures include Charles D. Baker, the 2010 Republican nominee for governor, State Treasurer Steven Grossman, and Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray.