Elephant in the Room

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 27, 2010

"[Democrats] have for years blamed Republican governors for everything that goes wrong in Massachusetts," says Evangelidis. "The blame game won't work for them now."

For Brown, that game worked well in the opposite direction: on the stump, and in some of his advertising, he tied Coakley to Beacon Hill Democrats — unpopular ones like Patrick and disgraced ones like Sal DiMasi and Dianne Wilkerson.

Further boosting the GOP mood is the gubernatorial candidacy of Charlie Baker, the pol long considered the best candidate on the party's bench.

"The GOP has a decent chance of winning the Corner Office," says Republican state senator Robert Hedlund of Weymouth, who has not endorsed in the primary between Baker and Christy Mihos. "It would be exciting to be there in the legislature to work with a Republican governor."

GOP insiders also say that current party leadership, including state chair Jennifer Nassour and executive director Nick Connors, have done a good job building an infrastructure for candidates. That includes more active and organized town committees, and regional and county groups, which helped get audiences out to see Brown on the stump.

But despite all this, the MassGOP has not exactly wowed anyone with its candidate recruitment to date. Now, rumors are flying about possible new entrants in congressional races — particularly to run against Niki Tsongas, John Tierney, and William Delahunt, whose districts Brown carried with close to 60 percent of the vote — as well as those for state treasurer and attorney general.

Brown's victory could make the difference for the fence-sitters. "We have a lot of potential candidates who are still weighing whether to run," says MassGOP Communications Director Tarah Donoghue. "We're really hoping this will push some people over."

How low can they go?
That scenario Donoghue is hoping for is the same one that has some other Republicans nervous and some Democrats smiling.

They believe that Republicans who shoot for higher offices may fail, while Democrats snatch up the seats left open by the attempts.

After all, this is still Massachusetts. It's one thing to win an open Senate seat in a special election, particularly against a candidate who failed to connect with the electorate. It's quite another to defeat an incumbent congressman, or any strong Democratic candidate.

"I don't think anybody should be seduced by the idea that there is a wave of anti-incumbency going on," says one Boston-area consultant who advises Republican candidates. "Everybody now thinks that they can pull off a Scott Brown, when that's almost certainly not the case."

That brings us back to the 2004 scenario, which began with great enthusiasm before flaming out. In the State Senate, that election brought Republicans to an all-time low of six members — a number that subsequently dropped to five. One of those five, Brown, is on his way out the door. Another, Minority Leader Richard Tisei, is right behind him, running for lieutenant governor as Baker's running mate. Democrats believe they have a good shot at both seats.

Now Hedlund is contemplating a run for Delahunt's US congressional seat in the 10th district. If he makes the jump, it means that just two of the current five Republican state senators will be back next year.

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