1. Democrats may rue the day they supported the appointment of John Kerry as secretary of state. A special election will be held within 160 days once Kerry’s U.S. Senate seat becomes vacant, and Republican Scott Brown could be tough to beat. Polls show Brown is still popular with voters despite their decision to replace him with Elizabeth Warren; a special election would allow them to make amends and vote him back in. Democrats will have trouble repeating their argument that a vote for Brown risks giving the GOP Senate control, since Democrats would still have a 54-seat majority after a Kerry-Brown swap. A special election also has its own dynamics. The Democratic candidate won’t benefit from presidential coattails and a national narrative the way Warren did (and Martha Coakley didn’t). Voter turnout will likely be lower and less liberal, and interest could be limited, especially if voters fatigued from this year’s contest default back to Brown. It’s not clear any of the Democratic hopefuls have the right appeal in those circumstances. If Brown wins and then holds the seat in 2014, before long he could provide the crucial vote that gives Republicans control of the Senate, because the midterm elections are going to be especially tough for Senate Democrats.
2. Minnesota Sen. Al Franken once again organized a Secret Santa gift swap ($10 limit) for his colleagues, and members of the world’s greatest deliberative body exchanged their presents Tuesday on the Senate floor. Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse didn’t take part in the swap, but Jack Reed did. He got Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and Reed’s office reports he gave her an Alex and Ani “Hope” bracelet. (Murkowski is also the ranking Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which Reed chairs.) Reed’s Secret Santa was New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who serves with him on the Armed Services Committee. Appropriately, she gave him a West Point ornament and a copy of Tom Ricks’ recent book “The Generals.”
3. Spare some sympathy for Central Falls Mayor-elect James Diossa. Fresh off his special-election victory this month, Diossa is just months away from having to hit the campaign trail again. His current mandate is only to finish out Charles Moreau’s current term, which ends next year. That means another nonpartisan primary for mayor will be held in Central Falls on Sept. 13, 2013, just nine months from now, with a general election to follow Nov. 13. The winner will serve a three-year term, with the next election in 2016; after that mayoral tenures will return to four years. The idea is to get mayoral elections timed to coincide with high-turnout presidential ones.
4. And speaking of Diossa, a supporter notes he’s not the only politician his age trying to turn around a declining city. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl took the helm in that city in September 2006, when he was 26. Rhode Island’s leaders have looked to Pittsburgh as a model for turning around a former industrial economy, with Governor Chafee, Mayor Taveras and Brown President Ruth Simmons traveling there last year on a fact-finding mission. Diossa is planning to reach out to Ravenstahl for advice about the task he faces. He can also call someone closer to home: Joe Paolino was only 29 when he became mayor of Providence in 1984.
5. Eileen Farrell’s version of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” has to be one of the prettiest Christmas records ever made.
6. John Robitaille’s decision to bow out of the 2014 governor’s race isn’t a huge surprise. While Robitaille hasn’t left politics completely behind – he played Sheldon Whitehouse in Barry Hinckley’s debate prep sessions, and will appear on Newsmakers next week – the former Carcieri aide has kept a low public profile since his narrow loss two years ago. His announcement means the most likely Republican candidates are Allan Fung and Brendan Doherty, both of whom sound inclined to run. Then there’s the possibility of another Carcieri capturing the GOP nomination by surprise – a political outsider from the private sector. By definition, such a name isn’t on everyone’s lips at this juncture. Some have pointed to Karl Wadensten, the dynamic CEO of manufacturer Vibco who was the lone “no” vote on the 38 Studios deal as an EDC board member. Wadensten played down the idea on Executive Suite a few months ago, but he did sound intrigued. Who else?
7. The loss of manufacturing jobs in Rhode Island was a hot topic on the campaign trail this year, which makes “The Insourcing Boom,” Charles Fishman’s new Atlantic article, a timely read. Fishman argues the factors that have been driving industry to move operations overseas for decades are going into reverse. Are Rhode Island’s leaders aware of this trend? Have they thought about how the state can capitalize on it? (And speaking of Fishman, his book “The Wal-Mart Effect” is a must-read.)
8. Henry Kinch Jr. says it’s “extremely unlikely” that he’ll seek a rematch against Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien in 2014, but unlikely doesn’t mean impossible. Kinch, who was the endorsed Democratic candidate two years ago, is seen as someone who’d like to get back in the game and still thinks he’d do a better job running Pawtucket – but he’s probably too practical to run if he doesn’t have a shot.
9. Could the Engage Rhode Island donor list become Gina Raimondo’s version of Mitt Romney’s tax returns? The situations aren’t the same, but they rhyme – a former investment professional with a technocratic streak and a reputation for competence is dogged by a refusal to make sensitive financial information public. There will be a drumbeat to disclose. EngageRI says Texas trader John Arnold and his wife donated less than $333,000 of the nearly $1 million the group has raised so far, but that leaves more than $600,000 in mystery money. Perhaps the donors’ names wouldn’t be controversial – but as long as they remain a secret, they’ll remain the subject of innuendo from Raimondo’s adversaries.
10. An interesting point from Matt K. Lewis, writing for The Week about what he terms “an epidemic of demoralization” among working-class Americans: “Rick Santorum has popularized the notion that being married before having kids — and then staying married — is good for the pocketbook. When we mock social conservatives for their ‘family values,’ we ought to remember the practical reason these values caught on.”
11. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and Congressman David Cicilline discuss gun control. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – an encore interview with Alex & Ani CEO Giovanni Feroce. Watch Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or 6 a.m. on Fox).
12. Merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope you have a safe and happy holiday. See you back here next Saturday morning, for the last Saturday Morning Post of 2012.