Elephant in the Room

Massachusetts Republicans suddenly think this is their year — but if they shoot too high, they might fall hard
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 27, 2010

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Platoons of state Republicans, energized by Scott Brown's stunning victory over Democrat Martha Coakley last week, are setting their sights on November. Having broken Democrats' three-decade hold on Massachusetts's US Senate seats, they now have giddy dreams of a wave election, one in which a swarm of disgruntled voters will continue to register their dissatisfaction with the Democrats.

In the immediate aftermath of Brown's January 19 special-election triumph — even as vote totals were still coming in at his victory celebration — Republicans started speculating about other races they might win. Current GOP officeholders are suddenly contemplating running for higher positions. Long-dormant pols — like former state treasurer Joe Malone— have launched trial balloons for their potential return to the game. And political newcomers, some of whom have resisted party entreaties to run (for fear of being wiped out at the ballot box), are now considering bids.

"I'm sure every Republican elected official is considering running for higher races right now," says Lewis Evangelidis, Republican state representative from Holden, who had already decided to run for Worcester County sheriff.

This heady enthusiasm might blow over; but if it lasts, Massachusetts Republicans might end up fielding their highest-quality slate of candidates in years.

It remains to be seen, though, whether those candidates will be put to best use in races in which they have real shots at victory, or whether, in the exuberance to run, run, run, they will make a mess of this golden, iron-is-hot opportunity.

That's exactly what some Republicans fear. They picture the party's few incumbents giving up their seats to run for offices they won't win — or, worse, from their perspective, to run against one another, as seems increasingly likely to happen in one congressional primary.

By shooting for the moon, these Republicans might shoot themselves in the foot. Some party insiders are already fretting that the GOP's meager numbers in the state legislature could shrink even further, as the few incumbents leave to seek higher office.

But really, what is there to lose? The party has no US congressmen, no statewide elected offices, just five of 40 state senators, and 16 of 160 representatives. At this point, the practical impact of losing a few more would be negligible.

The reward, however, could be some significant party gains — similar to Bill Weld's 1990 gubernatorial election, which gave the GOP enough state senators to block veto-override votes.

And yet that's the same thinking that guided the party in 2004, when then-governor Mitt Romney recruited a swarm of strong candidates, buoyed in part by the special-election State Senate victory of the very same Scott Brown. That election ended in disaster for the party, which actually lost seats in both the House and Senate— and left demoralized candidates unwilling to run since. It could be devastating for the party to go through that again.

Blame game
The comparison with 1990 seems particularly apt, because that was the last election in which voters were asked whether to extend Democratic control of the governor's office.

Back then, it was the end of Michael Dukakis's final term. Now, Deval Patrick is seeking re-election.

In both cases, an unhappy electorate could pin all the faults of state governance on Democrats — something that wasn't true during the intervening 16 years of Republican governors, says Evangelidis.

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