The Massachusetts House voted late Thursday to change state law to give Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick the power to appoint a temporary successor to the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy until a special election is held early next year.
The vote has drawn controversy because a 2004 change in the law stripped then Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of the power to appoint a successor if Democratic Sen. John Kerry would have won the presidency.
The measure approved Thursday still must be approved by the state Senate and signed by Patrick to become law.
Democrats, who control Congress and the White House, want to maintain a potentially filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats in the Senate as key votes loom on the president's top domestic priorities, including health care reform and climate change legislation.
Meanwhile, the race of the open seat just got more competitive.
Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca is taking a shot at politics. The Democrat and wealthy investor has the means to finance his own campaign.
"I know this race will not be easy," he said. "That politics can be as tough as any high-stakes business deal or even as tough as professional sports."
Deep pockets will make him a contender but winning won't be a slam dunk.
Pagliuca is managing director of Bain Capital, the same venture capital firm co-founded by Romney, who saw his 1994 Senate bid against Kennedy wither under criticism that the company was responsible for lost jobs.
State Attorney General Martha Coakley was the first to announce her plans to pursue the seat early this month. The well-known prosecutor has name recognition on her side but a significant funding gap to overcome, and Rep. Michael Capuano, also a Democrat, is pledging to enter the race.
Republican state Sen. Scott Brown, the frontrunner on his side of the aisle, faces tough odds. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1 in Massachusetts.
The candidates face a heart-pounding rush to the finish. With a primary slated for Dec. 8 and the special election Jan. 19, they have just a few short months to win the hearts and minds of Massachusetts voters.