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Setti Warren weighing 2012 challenge to Sen. Brown

STEVE LEBLANC

He’s been in office a little more than a year, but already Republican Sen. Scott Brown is beginning to attract would-be Democratic challengers.

Among those said to be weighing runs are Newton Mayor Setti Warren; Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll; Alan Khazei, founder of the nonprofit City Year; and two current members of Congress, Reps. Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch, as well as former mutual fund executive Robert Pozen.

Warren, who previously brushed aside speculation that he might challenge Brown, issued a statement this week saying he’s now considering a run. Warren is an Iraq war veteran and former aide to U.S. Sen. John Kerry. He’s also Newton’s first black mayor.

The only declared Democratic candidate is Robert Massie, a former lieutenant governor candidate.

Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick has helped stoke the early interest in the race, publicly naming several of the potential candidates that he said he’s already spoken to, including Warren, Driscoll, Khazei and Massie.

But Patrick rejected suggestions last week that he was trying to single-handedly jumpstart the race. He also said he doesn’t favor one Democratic candidate over another at this point.

“I’m not picking. I’m going to support the Democratic nominee,” Patrick told reporters outside his Statehouse office after returning from a weekend trip to Washington to attend the National Governors Association’s winter meeting.

“There are a lot of very strong candidates and potential candidates and he’s one of them,” Patrick said of Until this week, Warren has tamped down suggestions he might be considering a run. He was elected Newton mayor in 2009 and has served for just over a year.

After Patrick repeatedly dropped his name, however, Warren acknowledged he is thinking about running against Brown and thanked “my friend Governor Patrick” for mentioning his name.

“I am considering a run against Senator Brown,” Warren said in a written statement. “I have been disappointed by many of his votes, which I believe have hurt many cities and towns in Massachusetts, including my own community of Newton.

“I’m not yet ready to announce an official decision on entering the race. But in the final analysis, if I believe I can do a better job for Massachusetts, I’ll put my name on the ballot,” he added.

Another name mentioned by Patrick is Driscoll, who is in her second term as the Democratic mayor of Salem. Driscoll has also not yet publicly declared whether she intends to run against Brown.

Khazei, who ran for the Democratic nomination during last year’s special election but lost to eventual Democratic nominee Martha Coakley, said he’s still weighing the pros and cons of a 2012 run, but hasn’t made a final decision.

He said that Brown, who remains popular among voters and has more than $7 million in his campaign account, isn’t as invincible as he may appear right now.

“It’s Scott Brown, nobody thought he could win,” Khazei said. “His own election shows you that nobody is unbeatable.”

Brown has said he’s ready for all comers.

Brown, interviewed last month as he signed copies of his new autobiography at a Boston mall, said he will have the resources needed to mount a vigorous defense against whichever candidate Democratic voters decide to put up against him.

“We’re going to have enough money to fight back against all the special interest money that is going to come in from all over the country,” Brown said.

Massachusetts Democrats say that they hope to use the lessons they learned from Brown’s successful campaign for the Senate seat formerly held by the late Democrat Edward Kennedy when they run against the Republican incumbent next year.

State party chairman John Walsh has said the party plans to use Brown’s voting record against him. Walsh said that record appears calculated to make Brown look conservative without going too far to alienate more moderate Massachusetts voters.

Democrats point to Brown’s record on last year’s repeal of the federal ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Brown initially said he would support a repeal. When the repeal vote came up, however, Brown voted against it, saying that he wanted the Senate to vote on a tax package first. After the tax package was approved, Brown voted in favor of the repeal.

Brown has defended his record, saying he has remained true to his pledge to be an independent senator beholden to no one.

Walsh also hopes to out-organize Brown. The party’s organizing prowess was credited in part for helping Patrick win his re-election battle last year.

Brown’s re-election comes during a presidential contest. Democrats are hoping that President Barack Obama’s name on the ballot could rev up enthusiasm among Democratic voters, which could backfire on Brown.

But a potential rival to Obama is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who could draw out Republicans and Brown-backing independents if he is the eventually GOP presidential nominee.

Associated Press