Almost immediately following the death of one of the most prominent statesmen of the last century, news outlets began pondering Ted Kennedy's replacement. After a long list of Democrats to potentially carry Kennedy's legacy forward in the deep blue state, discussion turned to Republicans like Mitt Romney, who- though a formidable opponent- would be a highly unlikely candidate.
There are a plethora of reasons Romney wouldn't dare step into that race, tantalizing as it might seem to immediately become the well known, 800-pound-gorilla for the Republican nomination. But let's start with the most obvious point: Romney wants to be President, and everything he does over the next several years has to be tailored to that goal.
The Senate is no place for a presidential candidate. Ted Kennedy himself told Barack Obama to get out if he ever wanted to run for the White House. "The votes you're going to have to cast, whether it's guns or whether it's abortion or whether it's any one of the hot-button items, finishes you as a national political leader in this country," he said. "You just can't do it. It's not possible." For every vote a Senator casts, he's likely to cast another seemingly contradictory vote, even if his or her only opposition is to pork projects tacked onto the legislation. It cost John Kerry enormously in 2004 to have to explain why he voted against defense appropriations bills that he felt gave then-President Bush too much latitude in determining the troops' length of stay in Iraq. A Senate vote is only "yea" or "no." That isn't always easy to explain after the fact.
As a former governor, Romney can parse his words all he wants on those issues. Moreover, he hasn't necessarily been forced to take a position on absolutely everything, as he likely would in the Senate.
But just as importantly, Romney can't afford to even have a close race, which is likely in a state as traditionally left-leaning as Massachusetts. George Allen, the former Governor, then Senator from Virginia, saw his presidential hopes for 2008 dashed when he couldn't even win reelection to his Senate seat against Democrat Jim Webb in 2006. He'd raised close to $10 million in his campaign account, ostensibly to transfer to a presidential account for a solid head start in the primary, all for naught. If Romney only narrowly holds on to win the election, it throws question marks around whether or not he could win in other battleground states nationwide. What's more, there's a decent chance- even with his name recognition- that he'd ultimately lose. When Romney took office in 2003, his approval rating was 66% to 33% disapproving. When he left in 2006, his numbers had completely flipped, with only 34% approving and 65% disapproving. He'd have to face those same voters.
Maybe the most important issue, though, is that Romney has nothing to gain by a stint in the Senate. He's got the national name recognition he needs, so it wouldn't provide any spotlight that he doesn't already have. He's relevant right now, as evidenced by the fact that he's a frequent guest on the Sunday morning talk show circuit and major conservative events. And at this very moment, he's the highest rated of the likely Republican contenders for 2012: he won the highly speculative CPAC straw poll earlier this year.
That said, the seat will probably stay Democratic, as no other Republican would have the profile that Romney does. A number of Massachusetts Democrats will likely get involved in the race, but focus will probably remain on a few key individuals. Former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy (a son of the late Bobby) was immensely popular while in office, which he left in 1999. And yet, Kennedy still has $2 million in his campaign account, which would be an excellent jump-start in funding in a special election to succeed his uncle. Former Rep. Marty Meehan, whose name recognition isn't what Kennedy's is, left office to become Chancellor of UMass Lowell. He would be included on just about any list if only for one reason: he has a whopping $5 million in his campaign account, largely from years of running for reelection in a heavily Democratic district in which he didn't have to spend. And just about every other Congressman will be looked at, though well-funded titans like Ed Markey, Barney Frank, and Richard Neal (who together have $6.5 million and upwards of 85 years of service among them) may not want to even get involved in the race at all.
If Kennedy gets involved, with the money he already has, his influence among state and national leaders, his unparalleled name recognition, his reputation for community service, and his current emotional appeal, he likely becomes the immediate front-runner.