Most Massachusetts House, Senate Dems Poised To Roll To Re-Election — But GOP Eyes Marginal Gains

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By Chris Lisinski
State House News Service

If you’re unsatisfied in some way about how state government has run the past two years and want to show that by voting out your representative or senator, odds are you’re out of luck.

Every single Massachusetts House and Senate district is up for grabs again in November, and nearly two-thirds of those are already a virtual guarantee in favor of the incumbent because so few challengers filed paperwork to run for office by an end-of-day Tuesday deadline.

Barring the unforeseeable, consider it a pre-election season landslide for the incumbents and the continuation of a lock on the Massachusetts Legislature for Democrats, who according to the history book Leading the Way have controlled the House since 1955 and the Senate since 1959.

In a year that will also feature a bruising presidential election and a U.S. Senate contest, voters will have more than one declared option on the ballot in only 54 out of 160 state House districts and 14 out of 40 state Senate districts.

A lack of competition has long been a feature on Beacon Hill, where Democrats wield supermajority margins in both chambers and on the whole do not face serious opposition. But this cycle, with the state straining to rein in housing costs, stave off health care disruptions, and navigate a costly emergency shelter crisis, the trend is even more pronounced.

One hundred four state representatives and 26 state senators are on track to stroll to another term because they are the only candidates who made the ballot, according to data provided by Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin’s office. In 2022, 92 state representatives and 16 state senators were the only candidates to qualify in their districts, and in 2020, a combined 125 reps and senators went unopposed in either the primary or general election.

Candidates can still launch write-in campaigns, which are usually unsuccessful but could alter the outlook in some districts. Republicans are hoping to secure spots on the general election ballot by securing enough primary election write-in votes in at least two districts, which could trim the number of incumbent representatives without a declared opponent to 102.

Challenges to ballot eligibility and withdrawals can also happen by 5 p.m. Friday, May 31.

Neither House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) nor Senate President Karen Spilka(D-Ashland) face any declared opponents, nor do their budget chiefs and top deputies, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Aaron Michlewitz (D-North End) and state Senator Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport).

Only one state representative and two state senators in the existing Democratic leadership hierarchy can expect any obstacles to re-election. State Representative Paul Donato of Medford, a second division chairman, drew primary challenges from Nichole Dawn Mossalam and Zayda Ortiz. Senate assistant majority leader Joan Lovely of Salem will have a general election opponent, Republican challenger Damian Mitchell Anketell, while Senate assistant majority whip Julian Cyr of Truro faces opposition from a Republican, Christopher Robert Lauzon, and unenrolled Joe Van Nes.

One of the most interesting races will unfold in the Merrimack Valley. First-term state Representative Francisco Paulino of Methuen faces a challenge from former state representative Marcos Devers of Lawrence, a fellow Democrat whom Paulino unseated in the 2022 primary.

If Devers wins the rematch, it would mark his second return to the Legislature. He was first elected in 2010, lost a 2016 Democratic primary to Juana Matias, secured election again in 2018, then served until Paulino defeated him.

Most of the competition will take place in districts with open seats because a sitting lawmaker either resigned mid-term or opted against seeking another term.

Sixteen Massachusetts House seats and three Massachusetts Senate seats are open, clearing the way for a minimum of 19 newcomers to the 200-seat Legislature when the 2025-2026 term gavels in next year.

Two of those names are all but decided. Hadley Luddy of Orleans, the chief executive officer of the Homeless Prevention Council, is the only candidate set for the ballot in the Fourth Barnstable District being vacated by retiring state Representative Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown). Out west, Easthampton City Council president Homar Gomez was the only one to file certified signatures in the race to succeed outgoing state Representative Daniel Carey (D-Eashampton) in the Second Hampshire District.

Both representatives-in-waiting are Democrats set to keep those districts in the majority party’s column.

Only one district lies vacant today. Mariano never called a special election to succeed former state representative Josh Cutler of Duxbury, who resigned from the Sixth Plymouth District for a job in the Healey administration in February.

That’s an area where GOP leaders are hoping to make gains. Before Cutler won his first election in 2012, the district had regularly opted for Republican candidates.

Two Pembroke Republicans, Jane Cournan and Ken Sweezey, will face off in the primary, and the winner is set to meet the presumptive Democratic nominee, Rebecca Coletta of Pembroke, in the general election.

MassGOP executive director John Milligan named the Sixth Plymouth as a district where he feels good about the minority party’s chances. He’s also optimistic about challenges for a pair of open Senate districts, one in southeastern Massachusetts represented by retiring Democratic state Senator Marc Pacheco of Taunton and another one held by outgoing Democratic state Senator Susan Moran of Falmouth.

Republicans have candidates on the ballot in just 43 House districts and 12 Senate districts, a drop from the 55 House districts and 19 Senate districts with GOP ballot presence in 2022.

Republicans typically run a limited number of candidates in specific districts, other than some broader reaches during the Romney administration. Milligan said the party embraced a targeted approach this time around under new party chairman Amy Carnevale.

He said the GOP’s legislative candidates tend to fare better in gubernatorial election years, noting that Massachusetts voters have picked Republicans for the corner office on multiple occasions, than they do in presidential years when Democrats typically win big.

“We know the areas in the state we can win. We know the rep seats and the Senate seats that we can win in. And so we had a targeted list of seats that we believe are feasible to flip or win if they’re open in a presidential year, and that’s where we heavily recruited candidates,” Milligan said. “The reality is the party is still rebuilding.”

“I don’t see it as a lack of competition,” he later added. “I see it as a targeted strategy in what tends to be a tough election year for Republicans in Massachusetts to direct resources to areas we can win.”

Republicans hold just 25 seats in the House and four in the Senate. In the Senate, that’s an improvement:  Peter Durant of Spencer won a special election late last year, flipping a seat previously held by now-former Democratic state senator Anne Gobi (D-Spencer).

At the time, party bosses said it was the first GOP special election win since 2017.

“We might not be challenging 102 or whatever it is of the Democrats, but if we win two or three of these seats in November for the first time in a very long time in the presidential year, they’re going to know we’re coming for them next,” Milligan said.

One district GOP leaders see as competitive went Democratic last time by a paper-thin margin. Democrat Margaret Scarsdale of Pepperell won by seven votes after a recount, and she’ll need to fend off a challenge from Republican and fellow Pepperell resident Lynne Archambault to retain the seat.

The other district that saw a recount does not have a Republican on the ballot, at least not yet. Kristin Kassner of Hamilton, who unseated Republican state Representative Lenny Mirra (R-West Newbury) by a single vote, is the only candidate who filed certified nomination papers, according to Galvin’s office.

Milligan said Mark Tashjian of Georgetown will pursue a write-in bid as a Republican. If Tashjian secures enough write-in votes in the primary, his name will appear on the general-election ballot against Kassner.

That’s the same strategy Republicans are eyeing for a House district on the Cape. Milligan said party officials are talking to “a number of people” about challenging first-term Democratic state Representaive Christopher Flanagan of Dennis, who paid a penalty after state campaign finance regulators found that he lied about the origins of a 2022 election mailer.

It’s not clear who will step up, but Milligan said he expects one person to earn the GOP’s support as a write-in candidate in the primary who could potentially then lock in an official ballot spot for the general election.


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