Saturday February 2, 2013

Conventional wisdom has it that Republicans lost a great chance to win the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Democrat John Kerry, the new U.S. secretary of state, when former U.S. Senator Scott Brown announced Friday he would not be a candidate. It’s worth remembering that conventional wisdom had it wrong three years ago when Mr. Brown was expected to lose handily to Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill the Senate seat left by the late Senator Edward Kennedy.

In fact, Mr. Brown would have had the same problems in the coming election that he did last fall against Democrat Elizabeth Warren -- his unimpressive record as a senator and the unpopularity of Washington Republicans in Massachusetts. Mr. Brown leads Democratic challengers Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch in polls, but he had a substantial lead over Ms. Warren as well until the campaign started and she moved to a decisive victory.

Mr. Brown could not have been looking forward to a third Senate campaign in four years. He is now free to run for governor next year or seek a job in the private sector and abandon politics temporarily or permanently. The state GOP does not have a deep bench, but former Governor William Weld, who dropped out of politics not long after losing a Senate race to John Kerry in 1996, could be a formidable candidate. Fiscally conservative and socially moderate, Mr. Weld is an old school New England Republican who was able to work with Democratic legislators.

Former Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey and former gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker, both of whom were defeated by Governor Deval Patrick, are possibilities for the Republicans. Ms. Healey didn’t have much of a record to run on after four years as Mitt Romney’s second in command and Mr. Baker, a Weld type, failed to make a strong case to unseat the popular incumbent Patrick.

Or an obscure back-bencher from Beacon Hill could emerge as the Republican candidate. That is what Scott Brown was before he turned conventional wisdom on its head in January of 2010.