WASHINGTON — Democrats haven't found a solid challenger to GOP Sen. Scott Brown in liberal Massachusetts next year, stoking concerns the party could blow its best shot to take back the seat held for nearly a half-century by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
It's a seat close to Democrats' hearts, still raw from their humiliating loss to the upstart Brown in 2010.
The senator's widow, Vicki Kennedy, has flatly ruled out running. So did former Rep. Joe Kennedy, who joked he was "feeling ill all of a sudden" when reporters recently asked him about challenging Brown.
The state's leading Democrat, Gov. Deval Patrick, insists he's not interested. Former Rep. Martin Meehan, flush with $4.8 million in campaign cash, has rejected pleas from party officials to jump in.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who rarely minces words, described Brown's prospects bluntly.
"There's nobody that can beat him," he told the Boston Herald recently.
With a crowded field of lesser-known candidates expected to run, Democrats fret that a long, costly and divisive primary could sink their hopes of reclaiming a seat they feel they never should have lost. Democrats are facing a tough fight in 2012 to hang onto their slim majority in the Senate.
"The looming liability right now for the Democrats is to go through a bloody, messy and expensive primary and then turn around with just six weeks to take on Scott Brown," said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic analyst in Boston. "So that's why Democrats have to think long and hard about who is running and trying to solidify behind someone who has the best shot at beating Scott Brown."
Rep. Michael Capuano, a potential challenger whose district includes Harvard Square and Cambridge, said rallying behind a single candidate would boost his party's chances considerably.