Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s appointment of Mo Cowan, his former chief of staff, to the interim Senate seat vacated by John Kerry came as a surprise to many who expected the governor to choose retiring Rep. Barney Frank. But among the Massachusetts political class, the pick wasn’t a shock: Frank’s campaign never worked on the only person whose vote he needed.
“I predicted Mo Cowan weeks ago,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston Democratic operative and political analyst. “I’ve been hearing it for weeks.”
“Here’s what happened to Barney,” Marsh said. “His campaign peaked too soon and he pissed Patrick off by campaigning.”
Frank had been telling reporters he would be open to taking the interim Senate seat made available by Kerry’s nomination as Secretary of State, and had built up a sense of momentum among progressive activists. It was a momentum that was more D.C. myth than reality, even despite a boost from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who called Frank an “extraordinary” option for the job and referred to him as “my tutor, my guide.”
“The governor had been clear that what he really wanted was a person who would be a caretaker, make sure the clocks run on time, and vote the way Kerry would have,” said one Democratic operative in Boston. “Those are all the things Barney would have done, but it’s the extra stuff he would have done that, the extra flair he would have brought to things, that the gov didn’t want.”
“Everything that Mo’s going to do has a big stamp on it that says ‘approved by Deval Patrick,’” the operative said. “Barney has his own agenda.”
“It ended up being two completely closed circles operating: One around the gov making the pick, and then the frenzy around picking Barney. But I don’t think it was ever very serious here — to the extent that you can lobby for the job, I don’t think Barney really did it.”
Patrick has been trying to push a number of policies through in the last two years of his term, and was recently holding multiple press conferences each week, where reporters would inevitably ask him about Frank. The questions were viewed as a distraction that Patrick didn’t want. “He doesn’t want to have to talk about everything Barney says,” said the operative.
Three weeks ago, Doug Rubin, who ran both of Patrick’s gubernatorial campaigns and served as his chief of staff before Cowan, tweeted in favor of picking someone other than Frank: “I respect Cong. Frank and what he has accomplished, but there are better options for MA Senate interim appointment,” Rubin wrote. The tweet was viewed in Boston as a signal from Patrick’s camp that he wouldn’t be picking Frank.
Frank could have also become a liability in the upcoming race to fill the Senate seat for real: “While Frank might have been a positive force for the Democrat running this spring, he almost certainly would also have served as a rhetorical whipping boy for the Republican candidate, providing a handy way to rally the conservative base,” wrote Jerold Duquette, a political science professor.
At this point in his career, Patrick has nothing to lose politically if he picks who he wants.
“There’s no political downside for Patrick in picking Mo because he’s not running for reelection,” Marsh said.
Democratic activists “will be disappointed,” Marsh said, a prediction that’s already being borne out: The Progressive Change Campaign Committee released a statement on Wednesday morning that said, “With Social Security and Medicare on the line, Massachusetts needs a senator who will work hand-in-hand with Elizabeth Warren to oppose any cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits. We hope Sen. Cowan will be that strong senator, especially since his actions will reflect back on Governor Patrick.”
But regardless, Cowan isn’t expected to try to run for the full term this spring.
“This is going to be a very short political career,” he told a reporter at a press conference announcing his appointment on Wednesday.