BOSTON (SHNS) – When President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team announced his COVID-19 advisory board on Monday, House Speaker Robert DeLeo quickly did the math, pointing out on Twitter that more than half of the members “were educated and/or employed in Massachusetts.”
And while Boston Mayor Martin Walsh noted Sunday that Biden “can’t take everyone from Massachusetts to Washington with him,” speculation has started to swirl about which Bay State pols might find a new home in a Biden administration.
Walsh and U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren — who’d indicated a willingness to serve as Biden’s running mate after her own presidential bid came up short — are frequently mentioned names among Democrats, and another one-time 2020 presidential contender, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, endorsed Biden in January after ending his own campaign.
With Biden trumpeting a message of unity, the Delaware Democrat could look to pull some members of his cabinet from across the aisle. Gov. Charlie Baker’s name has surfaced as a potential candidate, and former acting Gov. Jane Swift said she was “honored” to be among the “#unexpected5” blogger Patrick Riccards floated as potential education secretaries.
A blue state that backed Biden in the primary over home-state candidate Warren and that is already represented on his campaign staff — with Franklin native and Tufts graduate Jen O’Malley Dillon as campaign manager and Concord resident and 2018 congressional candidate Rufus Gifford as deputy campaign manager — Massachusetts could be a likely place for the president-elect to look.
Democratic political consultant Mary Anne Marsh, a principal at the Dewey Square Group in Boston, said Warren and Walsh “make the most sense to discuss” as potential Biden appointees.
Warren, Marsh said, is “being pushed openly by a lot of progressive supporters across the country,” though the fate of her Senate seat could be an obstacle.
If Warren were to leave the Senate, Baker, under state law, would appoint an interim senator to serve until voters pick a successor for the remainder of her term — which runs through 2024 — in a special election that would likely be held in the spring of 2021. The state Legislature, controlled by a Democratic supermajority, has in the past changed that law, including in 2004 to avoid the possibility that Republican Gov. Mitt Romney would appoint a senator if John Kerry won the White House.
A Rep. Mindy Domb amendment (#578) to the $46 billion House budget teed up for debate this week would require that the appointed interim senator “be of the same political party as the person vacating the office.”
Walsh, during his “Ask the Mayor” segment on GBH Radio, said Friday that he’s not sure if Baker would choose a Democrat or a Republican for the hypothetical vacant seat, but said the governor would likely face “a lot of pressure from the Republican leadership in the Senate to put a Republican in there.”
“That’ll be an interesting race, because obviously there’s been a lot of names floated around for that seat, if Sen. Warren were to be appointed to serve in the Biden administration,” Walsh said.
An October UMass Amherst/WCVB poll asked Democrats and independent voters who they’d pick in a Democratic primary for a potential 2021 Senate special election. U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley led the field, with 23 percent, followed by Rep. Joe Kennedy III with 19 percent and, at 12 percent each, Attorney General Maura Healey and former Gov. Deval Patrick.
Marsh said Pressley “would be the automatic front-runner in any Senate seat that opened up, including this one.
“I’m sure there are many other people who would jump in, just because if you’re an elected official, you’re not going to have to give up your seat,” she said.
Kennedy made his interest in the Senate known earlier this election cycle, unsuccessfully challenging Sen. Ed Markey in this year’s Democratic primary. Kennedy gave up his congressional seat to run against Markey, and Marsh said serving in a Biden administration would give him a way to stay in politics, if he wants to do so.
“Whether a cabinet secretary perhaps, maybe the head of an agency of some sort, going into a Biden administration may be a way for Joe Kennedy to resume his political career when he finishes his congressional term,” she said. “I have no idea whether he’s interested or not, but that’s a possibility.”
Patrick, another 2020 presidential candidate, in May launched a political action committee to support Biden and Democrats running in swing states. In a statement Saturday, he congratulated Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, saying, “Now on to the urgent work of transforming our country into one that works for all Americans.”
Beacon Hill and city councils often serve as somewhat of a farm team for Washington, D.C., and candidates with pre-existing campaign operations often have an easier time mobilizing in the limited ramp-up time of a special election.
Of the state’s current Capitol Hill delegation, Markey and Reps. Stephen Lynch, Bill Keating and Katherine Clark are all former state lawmakers, and Markey and Clark achieved their current posts in special elections that arose after a cabinet appointment. Pressley, Rep. Richard Neal and Representative-elect Jake Auchincloss have all held city council posts.
The last time a sitting Massachusetts elected official was tapped for a Cabinet position — when President Barack Obama nominated then-Sen. Kerry for secretary of state in 2012 — it triggered a wave of special elections, involving many players who are still on the scene today.
Markey, then a congressman, defeated Lynch and Republican candidate Gabriel Gomez, to clinch Kerry’s Senate seat. State Sen. Katherine Clark was elected to Markey’s seat after emerging from a primary field that included her fellow Sens. Karen Spilka and Will Brownsberger, Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoijian and then-state Rep. Carl Sciortino. Then-Rep. Jason Lewis took Clark’s place in the Senate, and in the November 2014 general election, Stoneham Democrat Michael Day claimed the House seat that Lewis vacated.
When President Bill Clinton reached into Boston City Hall to appoint Mayor Ray Flynn ambassador to the Vatican in 1993, City Council President Thomas Menino became acting mayor, a post he would use as a springboard to the next two decades that would make him the city’s longest serving mayor.
Were Walsh to leave for Washington, Council President Kim Janey would be elevated to acting mayor, making her the first woman of color to lead the city. She’d also have an incumbency advantage if she chose to enter the 2021 mayoral election, shaking up a field that so far includes city councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell.
Walsh has not said if he plans to seek another term next year. Open seats tend to draw more competition, and his departure could bring out more potential candidates.
Walsh, then a state representative, was elected mayor in 2013, when Menino’s decision not to run for re-election set off the city’s first mayoral race without an incumbent in decades.
“Some time in the new year we’ll be talking about what my plans are,” Walsh said in the GBH interview.
Asked if he’d be interested in running for Warren’s seat if she does join the Biden administration, he said, “I’m focused on being the mayor of Boston right now.”
Walsh said he’s known Biden since 1997, and met Harris, a California senator, during the 2018 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Harris visited City Hall when she was running for president before joining Biden’s ticket, Walsh said.
“Politics is about having options, and Marty Walsh has options,” Marsh said. “He is a long-time Joe Biden supporter, long before he ran this time, and you could see Biden picking him for something. You could also see Marty Walsh running for reelection and being successful. He has a lot of options and I think it will be interesting to see what he ends up doing in the end.”
Walsh did not make an endorsement in the presidential primary but many other political figures here did endorse Biden, including Kerry, former U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt, former U.S. Sen. Paul Kirk, former Democratic National Convention CEO Steve Kerrigan, Sen. Marc Pacheco, and Reps. Claire Cronin, Angelo Scaccia and Paul Tucker.
Implications for Baker
While many Republicans withheld congratulations for Biden as Trump refused to concede, Baker did not.
“I congratulate President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris on their victory. This has been a long and divisive campaign, but now it is critical for us all to focus on the very real and immediate challenges facing this nation,” Baker tweeted from his official account, hours after the race was called.
Advisors to Baker said they had discussed how best to reach out to the Biden transition team to begin to forge a relationship with the incoming administration, but as of Monday afternoon the two men had not connected.
Given Baker’s frustration with Trump and his administration on many issues, the Republican should have no trouble ideologically working with Biden and a Democratic White House. He could benefit from being able to lean on a Congressional delegation that will have better access and influence with the new administration.
“President-elect Biden needs some presence of bipartisanship as he moves forward and Gov. Baker is one of his best options. He’s not going to get a lot of love from the Congress, but Gov. Baker will have no hesitation being cooperative or going the White House and posing for photos,” said Tufts University political science professor Jeffrey Berry.
Baker’s name has been mentioned as someone who could be asked to join a Biden administration in Washington, which would allow the governor to follow in the footsteps of his father who worked under former Gov. John Volpe as assistant secretary of transportation in the Nixon administration.
Berry said he would expect Biden to reach out to some Republicans for positions in his administration, and said Baker “would be a natural given he’s a moderate, not terribly partisan and not running for president in 2024.”
But both the governor and those close to him say he’s unlikely to be lured away from Beacon Hill, even if a cabinet job or the opportunity to appoint himself to the U.S. Senate should arise. Baker has said that he’s flattered to be among those being discussed for cabinet positions, but that he intends to remain in Massachusetts and finish his second term, which ends in 2022, two years into Biden’s first term.
Baker has not ruled out seeking a third term in two years, and Berry said Biden’s focus on controlling COVID-19 and a shared emphasis on mask-wearing could relieve one of Baker’s biggest liabilities, which is the resurgence of the virus.
“It’s of the highest importance for Biden and Baker needs a president to help him fight because he can’t control it here by himself. This could help Baker indirectly if it helps him resolve this,” Berry said.