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Sen. Ben Affleck? Fearing loss of Mass. Senate seat, Democrats scramble.

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Susan Walsh/AP

(Read caption) Ben Affleck, actor and founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, listens to testimony during the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the evolving security situation in the Congo on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 19.

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As you may have heard, actor/director Ben Affleck visited Capitol Hill this week to testify about violence in Congo. But the real news for political junkies was that he didn’t totally, 100 percent, flat-out deny that he might be interested in running for the Massachusetts Senate seat that would become vacant if – as looks likely – Sen. John Kerry (D) is tapped to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as the next secretary of State.

Asked about the possibility, according to Politico, Mr. Affleck responded: “That’s not what I’m here to talk about.”

The point being, of course, that he didn’t say “no.” And in Washington, anything less than a Shermanesque “I will not run even if you promise to somehow round up and destroy all existing copies of ‘Gigli’ ” statement is seen as "leaving the door open." Adding to the intrigue, Affleck met privately with Senator Kerry during his visit.

Celebrity rumors aside, some actual news about the Massachusetts Senate race came Thursday: the release of a poll showing that outgoing GOP Sen. Scott Brown, who lost his reelection bid in November to Elizabeth Warren, would be a strong favorite to fill Kerry’s seat.

According to the survey by WBUR/MassINC, voters said they’d pick Senator Brown over a generic Democratic candidate by 47 percent to 39 percent. Roughly the same percentage – 47 percent to 40 percent – said they’d choose Brown over the current Democratic governor, Deval Patrick (who has said he’s not interested in running). The spread was even wider when Brown was matched against other current and former state politicians such as Rep. Edward Markey (D) and former Rep. Marty Meehan (D). Brown was given a 58 percent favorable rating overall, the highest of anyone tested in the poll.

All this is, for the most part, a reflection of name recognition. But in a special election – which takes place within a highly compressed time frame – name recognition can be crucial. So it’s easy to see why Massachusetts Democrats are eagerly (frantically?) grasping at the ever-so-faint hope of a possible Ben Affleck candidacy.

Or, really, someone – anyone – with a famous name. The other big rumor emerging this week was that one of the sons of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, Ted Kennedy Jr., might be interested in running. The power of the Kennedy name in Massachusetts is still such that Mr. Kennedy, an investment banker who resides in Connecticut, would probably become an early favorite for the Democratic nomination.

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Senator Kennedy’s widow, Vicki Kennedy, has also been mentioned as a possible temporary “placeholder” appointment, as has former governor and onetime presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, although Mr. Dukakis himself has dismissed the likelihood of such a move. 

So what about the prospect of a "Sen. Ben Affleck?" Well, we suppose it's no more unrealistic than “Sen. Ashley Judd.” Affleck, a native of Cambridge, Mass., has been one of the more politically engaged celebrities in recent years, ever since he hit the trail to campaign for Kerry back in 2004. And certainly, famous people have entered the halls of Congress before – most recently, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D). But Senator Franken’s celebrity was on a somewhat less-stratospheric plane than Affleck’s.

The real question is whether Affleck would actually choose to leave a productive career in Hollywood to join an institution that many of its current members describe as frustrating and broken.

We wouldn’t count on it.

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