Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said Wednesday he would support changing state law to allow him to appoint an interim successor to Sen. Edward Kennedy's seat while a special election is held.
Unlike most states, a successor to a vacant U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts is chosen by special election, not appointed by the governor.
In a recent letter to lawmakers, Kennedy, who died Tuesday night, said the law should be changed to allow the governor to appoint someone to serve in the Senate during the course of the election _ provided that person pledge not to run for the seat.
In radio interviews Wednesday morning, Patrick called the idea "entirely reasonable" and told WBUR-FM that he would sign the bill if it reached his desk.
"Massachusetts needs two voices" in the Senate, Patrick said.
Although Massachusetts is dominated by Democrats, a change in the law isn't a sure thing.
Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, both Democrats, issued statements of condolence early Wednesday, but neither has expressed support for giving the governor the power to name an interim successor. Republicans in both chambers, who hold about 10 percent of legislative seats in Massachusetts, oppose the idea.
Without the change, Senate Democrats could potentially fall one vote short on any health care overhaul legislation, were such a bill brought up before the special election. Health care had been Kennedy's core issue for decades.
Democrats have enough seats to prevent the Republicans from serious blocking moves in the Senate, but some moderate Democrats have been wavering. Another Democrat, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, has been seriously ill and often absent.
Any change in state law is not likely to happen immediately. Lawmakers are not expected to return to formal sessions until after Labor Day.
State law requires a special election for the seat no sooner than 145 days and no later than 160 days after a vacancy occurs. The law bans an interim appointee.
The clock for a special election is triggered either on the date of a resignation or the incumbent's death. It's up to the governor to pick the exact date of the election.
Any race to succeed Kennedy would be crowded and fiercely fought.
Despite speculation that Kennedy's wife, Vicki, could assume his Senate seat, family aides have said she is not interested in replacing her husband either temporarily or permanently. One of Kennedy's nephews, former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, has also been described as interested.
Other potential Democratic candidates include state Attorney General Martha Coakley, U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch, Michael Capuano, Edward Markey, James McGovern and William Delahunt, and former Rep. Martin Meehan, now chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
On the Republican side, potential candidates include Cape Cod businessman Jeff Beatty, former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, state Sen. Scott Brown and Chris Egan, former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Cooperation and Development.
Last week, Kennedy asked Massachusetts lawmakers to change state law to give Patrick, a fellow supporter of President Barack Obama and a backer of Obama's health care overhaul, the ability to appoint an interim replacement should he be unable to continue serving.
"It is vital for this Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate during the approximately five months between a vacancy and an election," Kennedy said in a letter to Patrick.