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“I know it’s the law, but I’m a Kennedy.”

Massachusetts state law isn’t handed down by decree from the Kennedy compound in Hyannis – yet.  So Ted Kennedy has had to politely ask the leaders of his state government to change the laws which govern the filling of a Senate vacancy to allow the governor to directly appoint the next junior Senator from the Bay State.  Kennedy, who has been absent from most of the current Senate term, claims to be worried about Massachusetts having “continuity of representation.”  It seems clear that his worry stems from the current health care debate.

Despite its reputation as a deep blue abyss, Massachusetts Republicans have done well in statewide elections for most of the last two decades.  Those victories came on the back of an electorate which is largely registered “independent.”  Consider also some other possibilities: a bruising Democratic primary, or the chance of an independent jumping into the race (like former Democrat Tim Cahill, who is running an independent campaign for Governor).

It adds up to a lot more than a special election for an iconic seat in the Senate: it adds up to a multi-faceted referendum on President Obama’s health care reform plans.  And since it’s Massachusetts, where a Kennedy clone is expected, there are actually many ways this election can be portrayed as a “loss” for the President – and, more significantly, to the type of health care Kennedy champions.

Kennedy could have avoided this by stepping down several months ago, when a favorable political environment and an excited Democratic base would have made the popular vote on his hand-picked successor a formality.  Kennedy lost that opportunity, which is why he is now asking the state to crown his heir by selection, rather than election.

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