Republicans Risk Not Fielding Any Candidate in Massachusetts

Nathan L. Gonzales February 5, 2013 · 2:28 PM EST

Republican chances of winning their second Senate special election in Massachusetts took the most significant hit late last week when former Sen. Scott Brown (R) decided not to run. And with other potential candidates passing daily and time running out before the filing deadline, there is a chance that Republicans won’t put up any candidate at all.

Getting on the ballot in the Bay State is much more difficult than holding a press conference, making an announcement, or launching a website. Candidates must secure 10,000 valid signatures from registered voters in the state by February 27, but the process is even more complex than that.

“With every day that passes, it only gets tougher for Republicans to get a candidate,” according to one GOP operative with experience in Massachusetts, who said if the candidate search went another week, it would be virtually impossible to make the ballot.

Candidates must first retrieve nominating petitions from the Secretary of State’s office and collect signatures from cities and towns across Massachusetts. But those signatures must be returned to and certified by the local election officials in the city or town where the paper was signed, then all the petitions must be collected and returned to the Secretary of State’s office by March 6.

For Democrats, the process isn’t nearly as involved. They can typically consolidate their efforts to Boston, Worcester, and Springfield and get the necessary signatures from registered Democrats or independents. Not only do they have a geographic advantage but also an organizational edge, particularly with labor groups.

For Republicans, the logistical challenge is much more difficult. Since they have to get either registered Republicans or independent voters, GOP candidates must cast a wider net to smaller cities and towns outside the population hubs. That starts a carousel around the state of gathering signatures, submitting to local election officials (who can often have irregular office hours), waiting for local election officials to certify the signatures by March 4, go back to each city and town to get the papers and deliver them back to Boston by March 6. [Read the official rules here.]

“It’s not an easy organizational thing to do,” according to the GOP source, who cited Senate candidate Jim Ogonowski as a recent example of the difficulty. Republican strategists thought pilot Jim Ogonowski (R) could put a scare into Sen. John Kerry (D) in 2008, but he submitted only 9,970 valid signatures out of the 10,000 required and wasn’t on the ballot.

Of course, there is little difference between a candidate that isn’t Brown and not having a candidate at all. National Republicans are very unlikely to invest in the race unless Rep. Ed Markey (D) has a complete meltdown. But if he does, Republicans risk not having a candidate in place to take advantage of it.