Political Scientists Cast Doubt On Republicans’ Ability To Pick Up Seats In Massachusetts Legislature This November

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Do Republicans have a chance of picking up any seats in the Massachusetts Legislature this week?

It’s an uphill climb.

Out of the 200 seats in the state legislature, the Massachusetts Republican Party controls just 35 of them:  31 state representatives and four state senators. 

The party is running candidates in eight state Senate races and 55 candidates in races for the Massachusetts House of Representatives, hoping to expand the party’s presence at the State House. But will it work?

One problem is that this is a presidential election year, which tends to draw more Democrats than in other elections.

The GOP won an open race in 2016 — Republicans picked up a seat in the House when William Crocker (R-Barnstable) beat Democrat Aaron Kanzer after then-Representative Brian Mannal (D-Barnstable) decided to not seek re-election. Kanzer, who was 21 at the time of his run, is now a manual scoreboard operator for the Boston Red Sox.

Another example:  In 1984, when Ronald Reagan won 49 states including Massachusetts, a Republican, Peter Torkildsen of Danvers, beat then-incumbent state representative John Murphy of Peabody, picking up a seat in the State House for the party. Torkildsen went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Typically, though, the Massachusetts Republican Party gains seats in midterm elections, not presidential years. For example, the party won 32 state representative races in 2010, after winning just 16 in 2008. In 2014, the party won 35 of such races after winning 29 in 2012.

Could this year be different? Could the party pick up some seats on Tuesday, November 3?

Don’t count on it, political scientists tell New Boston Post.

UMass Boston political scientist Erin O’Brien thinks the state Republican Party may actually lose a couple of seats. 

“The Mass GOP, as a party org, is certainly going more in the Trump vein,” she told New Boston Post in an email message. “I don’t see that producing any significant gains in the leg.  If anything, motivated voters X breakdown of MA party id, suggests Dem pick-ups. But, given the low number of Republican-held seats, there are not too many seats to lose.”

UMass Lowell political scientist John Cluverius is also skeptical about the party’s chances. Part of the problem he sees is that many candidates publicly align themselves with President Donald Trump in a state that he will likely lose by more than 30 percentage points.

Massachusetts Republicans are playing a strategy that’s just not supported by polls,” Cluverius told New Boston Post in an email message. “They could run as Charlie Baker Republicans, hitch their wagons to an extremely popular Republican governor, and pick up enough votes from Democrats and unenrolled voters to knock off some entrenched Democrats, especially any that might have issues with corruption or scandal. 

“Instead, they’ve chosen mostly to run as Trump Republicans in a state where most voters dislike Trump, don’t approve of the job he’s doing as President, and plan to vote against him,” he added. “Most voters don’t know a lot about state legislative elections; so candidates could easily embrace Baker on popular Republican positions like lower taxes, fewer regulations, and holding corrupt politicians accountable.”

Cluverius also said that not supporting Baker, one of the more popular governors in the country, is not the best electoral move — regardless of whether or not they agree with him.

“Electoral politics are about making the most of whatever luck you can find, and right now, Republicans running for legislature in Massachusetts who are embracing Trump over Baker are making the worst politics of an already bad situation,” he said. “This isn’t about ideology policy, it’s about how candidates can win.”

Worcester State political scientist Anthony Dell’Aera told New Boston Post in an email message that Republican gains are possible, but some factors may prevent it.

“In a legislature dominated by the Democratic Party, it is hard for Republicans to make significant inroads if they are not running any general election candidates for most of these seats,” he wrote. “But it goes both ways, as there are some seats held by Republicans which Democrats are not challenging either. 

“It is part of a larger but somewhat common problem of non-competitive elections in state and local politics,” he added. “This stems in part from the greater possibility of homogeneity and single-party dominance in local and state legislative districts. When it comes to the opposition party, some of these towns have only nominal local party organizations, and that makes it difficult to promote discourse, compete in elections, and grow the party for the future in these places.”

Dell’Aera also said that some districts are winnable for Republicans.

“I think there are a couple of opportunities for Republican pickups in the Massachusetts state legislature, particularly in those districts that had special elections to fill seats this past spring and in places where Republicans have had success in the recent past,” he wrote.