Obituaries for the Massachusetts Republican Party have been written many times — I've contributed several items to that genre myself.
But this year, there's something different about the postmortems, in the wake of Scott Brown's eight-point loss for re-election to the US Senate and Richard Tisei's narrow defeat to Congressman John Tierney.
This time, it's GOP insiders and officeholders in the state suggesting that their cause is hopeless — that their numerical and institutional disadvantages just might mean that they simply cannot win, beyond a small smattering of state legislative districts and countywide law-enforcement positions.
Maybe the gloom is a passing phase. "There are glass-half-empty and glass-half-full Republicans in the state," says Charlie Baker, whose 2010 gubernatorial loss was another tough blow for the party. "Things can change quickly. Nobody expected Notre Dame to win 12 games this year."
It might be telling, however, that Baker sounds less than enthusiastic about committing to a second run for the State House corner office in 2014. "It's not something I will rule out doing again," he says.
The defeatism within the party suggests that top-flight candidates might be hard to recruit. If so, the Democrats' stranglehold on the state will only tighten. And we will look back at 2012 as the year the MassGOP surrendered.
NO MORE EXCUSES
There arguably have been worse years for the MassGOP.
In November 2010, as the rest of the country ushered Republicans into office, Democrats here swept all the statewide and congressional races.
Veterans of the party point to 1986, when they had to nominate George Kariotis for governor in a primary write-in campaign, and he went on to get around 30 percent of the vote against Michael Dukakis.
But in 2012, Republicans had a popular incumbent senator, one with a reputation for moderation and independence, seeking re-election. Polls showed that, even by election day, some 55 percent of the electorate approved of the job Brown was doing in office. Yet only 46 percent voted to keep him there.
Similarly, Tisei was a solid, moderate candidate polling ahead of Tierney, who was viewed favorably by fewer than 40 percent of the district's voters.
Those races have convinced many that even the best candidates, in the best circumstances, cannot overcome the Democratic advantages.
More optimistic Republicans blame this year's results on extraordinary turnout, driven by interest in President Barack Obama and Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.
The 2010 results were similarly ascribed to enthusiasm for Deval Patrick; in 2008 and 2006, it was Obama and Patrick again, respectively. John Kerry's presidential bid was cited as cause for the GOP's drubbing in 2004.
It's always going to be something. The coming election cycle will have an open gubernatorial race; in 2016, Democrats will come out strong to choose the next president.
Massachusetts Republicans have to figure out how to win over those additional voters, not hope for an election in which they don't show up.
A NEW PHILOSOPHY
One huge obstacle in their path is the locally despised national GOP, which has grown ever more conservative and toxic.
"The party is paying the price in places like Massachusetts, the Northeast, and California," Tisei says. "The national brand is really difficult to overcome in this state."