State party leaders take stock of climate, outlook for 2018 elections

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BOSTON – A week after the conclusion of a nasty and entrenched presidential election, leaders from the Massachusetts Democratic and Republican parties gathered in comity Wednesday evening, aiming for wins in two years while offering measured praise for one another along the way.

“I believe that the Republican Party and that Republicans want to make the world a better place,” Massachusetts Democratic Party executive director Jay Cincotti told a crowd at a Faneuil Hall event space. “I don’t believe that there’s this sort of evil interest, or this overly selfish interest.”

“Jay and other Mass. Dems do a great job of grassroots organizing, and they get their people out,” Massachusetts Republican Party Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes offered. She said, “So there’s a great sense of community in the Mass. Democratic Party, and so I think that’s very admirable.”

The praise came at the prompting of panel moderator and Politico Massachusetts reporter Lauren Dezenski, who at the end of a public discussion asked the two partisans to say something nice about the others’ party. The compliments were not out of step with the rest of the panel talk at Ned Devine’s.

Cincotti copped to making a base appeal by knocking Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, which has weathered recent politically-tinged scandals.

“The best thing that I’ve come up with since I’ve been [executive director] is calling DCR the Department of Crafty Republicans. That’s terrible,” Cincotti said, alleging that quips feed into needs of the news media. Asked by Dezenski whether he vowed not to use the phrase again, Cincotti said, “No, because I get in the paper all the time.”

“I’ve always considered myself a crafty Republican,” Hughes replied.

After the forum, Cincotti told the News Service, “It’s terrible in the sense that it doesn’t elevate the discourse. It plays to a base conversation. And I think the larger problem that we all face in this is that we are speaking to a lower common denominator every time that we talk.”

The exchanges between the party leaders provided answers to a question MassINC Polling Group President Steve Koczela posed at the start of the evening about whether the political tone in Massachusetts “has to be similar to the tone that we’ve all experienced in our politics nationally, recently.”

Republicans last held a majority in the Massachusetts Senate in 1958, and they last held the House in 1954, but with the notable exception of former Gov. Deval Patrick’s two terms, Republicans have held the governorship since 1991.

Cincotti talked about re-electing U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Hughes discussed re-electing Gov. Charlie Baker in two years, though neither has announced whether they would seek a second term in 2018.

Presidential election years generally favor Democrats in Massachusetts, though Republicans were able to defend the seats they hold and even picked off a Cape Cod House seat last week.

“In 2018 it’s a different year. We have a different turnout percentage, and so we have a better advantage to pick up more seats and field more candidates, and certainly with somebody like a Charlie Baker at the top of the ticket that’s attractive to folks who want to take that leap, running for public office,” said Hughes.

Cincotti posited that the lack of competition for seats in the Democrat-controlled House and Senate could stem from voter satisfaction with their elected leaders, while also noting Massachusetts campaign financing laws limit major infusions of money to upstart candidates seeking to take on an incumbent.

Hughes, who wound up backing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, critiqued the news media for “rooting for” the one-time long-shot bombastic candidate who won the presidency last week.

“I do think there was obviously a show aspect to covering Trump and his campaign, and even though they may not have voted for him, I think a lot of folks in the media were rooting for him because it gave them a story; it gave them a headline; it gave them something to chase,” Hughes said. She said, “I think the media is overwhelmingly entertainment in a lot of ways these days as opposed to real journalism – not that there isn’t that out there.”

Hughes said there is a “diversity of opinion” on a 2018 ballot question to repeal a new transgender access rights law the Republican governor signed. Cincotti, who said the law has the backing of Democrats, knocked the party chair for mailers sent out by the Marlborough Republican City Committee that reportedly accused a Democrat of “allowing boys to shower in girls locker rooms.”

“The state Republican Party did put out what I think are relatively ugly mailers with respect to the transgender rights bill and attacking some Democratic incumbents in supporting transgender rights,” said Cincotti. “The Massachusetts Republican Party vilified these candidates, trying to use fear.”

“It wasn’t us. That was something that we didn’t do,” Hughes told the News Service after the forum, as a party spokesman noted the controversial mailers originated from the city committee.

After the forum, Cincotti contended the state party has responsibility for the local party committee.

“If the Republican State Committee disagrees with what one of their town committees was doing, they were certainly not very vocal about it,” Cincotti said. “The Democratic State Committee is ultimately responsible for the actions of the town committees.”

–Written by Andy Metzger