By Allison Thomasseau

Statehouse Correspondent

and Andy Metzger

State House News Service

Republican state Rep. Dan Winslow, a firebrand legislator with experience in the executive and judicial branches, announced Tuesday he is forming an exploratory committee and is "99 percent" sure he will run in the special election for former U.S. Sen. John Kerry's seat.

Hours later, Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr announced he is considering a run, saying his decision "absolutely" would be made by next Monday if not sooner.

Two other Republicans, businessman and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez and Dorchester resident Doug Bennett, have also announced interest in running.

Winslow, a two-term legislator, said it's time for a fresh perspective in Washington.

"People in D.C. are either the solution or the problem, but we need to get new faces and new ideas," Winslow said.

He said he sees a ballooning federal deficit as the biggest challenge to Massachusetts residents.

Winslow has made a name for himself with fiscally conservative proposals that range from legislation that would require utilities to refund money to customers who lose their power for extended periods to taxing politicians' unused campaign funds.

"In Massachusetts, we have a lack of competition in electrical power," Winslow said. "If we're stuck with them, then we really don't have the kind of market levers to get good service.


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Tarr, of Gloucester, said he started thinking about it after U.S. Sen. Scott Brown announced last Friday that he would not seek to reclaim a seat in the upper chamber of Congress.

"I'm giving it serious consideration, but there are a lot of challenging factors in this situation, not the least of which is the compressed time frame to be able to get 10,000 certified signatures, which regardless of someone's interest in the race would make anyone have pause before moving forward," Tarr said.

Citing the lack of time to conduct polling or focus groups, Tarr said, "In many ways this is a very curtailed evaluation that you need to do without a lot of resources from the perspective of analysis."

Tarr, 49, said he could bring the spirit of bipartisanship he has helped sponsor on Beacon Hill to the more contentious body in Washington.

"I think my time up here has been characterized by strong efforts to find common ground," Tarr said, citing his work on passing last year's sentencing reform law, which eliminated parole for violent habitual offenders while reducing mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug violations.

As the minority leader who first entered the Senate in 1995, Tarr is the primary spokesman for the four Republicans in the 40-member body. A frequent voice in debates, Tarr challenges Senate Democrats to explain their reasoning while also gaining support for his own proposals.

The Winslow and Tarr announcements came after prominent Republicans said they would not run, including Brown, former state Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, former Gov. William Weld and former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey.

The lack of enthusiasm is linked to the tight deadlines faced by potential candidates, who will need to raise campaign contributions and collect 10,000 signatures by Feb. 27 to qualify for the April 30 primary election. The general election will be held June 25.

The Republican victor will likely face a better-known Democratic candidate. U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch and Ed Markey are the announced candidates seeking the Democratic nomination.

In an interview Tuesday, Winslow highlighted innovation as the biggest determinant of economic growth, starting with industry in northern Massachusetts.

"Lowell is a historic center of growth and innovation in Massachusetts, and it's no accident that so much of history has looked to Massachusetts for leadership," said Winslow.

Winslow last visited Lowell in October to advocate for former Gov. Mitt Romney at a UMass Lowell panel about the presidential election.

Winslow served as chief legal counsel for Romney from 2002 to 2005, and for Brown during Brown's 2010 campaign. He also served as district court judge. 

He is also legal counsel to the Boston-based law firm Proskauer Rose LLP, and has served on the Judiciary Committee. The 54-year-old Norfolk resident is known among his colleagues for being outspoken about legislation and procedures in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

"He's serious about his issues, and he does a good job, although I don't always agree with him," said state Rep. Kevin Murphy, D-Lowell, who worked with Winslow on the committee.

Frank Talty, co-director for the Center for Public Opinion at UMass Lowell, said Winslow should be considered a serious candidate even if he is not well known outside his district.

"Winslow's connections run deep in the Republican Party," Talty said. "He knows a lot of people in the party, and would start with a good party base."

According to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Winslow has about $31,000 in his campaign bank account. Brown spent more than $35 million during his 2012 campaign against Elizabeth Warren, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Lack of funding could be a problem, but Talty speculated that Winslow's connections to the Republican Party could bring in necessary campaign funds.

Winslow said the purpose of his newly established committee includes contacting potential donors to see if running is financially possible.