New England Region Roundup

Republicans Pushing to Gain Ground in Democratic-Leaning States

Posted October 7, 2012 at 11:00pm





Gov. Dan Malloy (D)

Electoral Votes: 7
2008 Presidential Vote:
Obama 61%/McCain 38%


Open Seat: Joe Lieberman (I) is retiring.

Outlook: Leans Democratic

This race was not supposed to make Democrats sweat, but it is.

Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon spent about $47 million on her failed 2010 Senate campaign, which she lost by 12 points despite the strong GOP tide everywhere else.

McMahon, who prevailed over former Rep. Christopher Shays in the GOP primary, is running a much smarter campaign this time. And recent polling has shown this to be a real race.

Like many House Members running statewide for the first time, Democratic Rep. Christopher Murphy has work to do to raise his name identification and profile. He is substantially less well-known around the state than Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who beat McMahon in the last election.

McMahon is spending heavily on television ads and has even been on the air in the New York City media market. Both campaigns are working hard to court the female vote.

National Republicans practically wrote this race off a year ago, but they now crow about how McMahon has redefined herself and run her campaign.

Still, the fundamentals of Connecticut in the post-George W. Bush era are Democratic. Bet on Murphy, but do not be shocked if the Nutmeg State has its first Republican Senator since 1989.


5th district | Open Seat: Christopher Murphy (D) is running for Senate.

Outlook: Leans Democratic

Republicans are making a push to regain ground in New England, and this race is central to that.

Former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty, Democrats’ most electable and organized candidate, won the primary and thereby helped the party avoid a catastrophe. The campaign of the one-time Democratic frontrunner blew up over the summer amid a scandal.

But the GOP nominated its own most electable candidate, Andrew Roraback. He is, quite simply, Democrats’ worst nightmare for a New England House race. He is moderate and favors abortion rights, and he refused to sign Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge.

Republicans are increasingly bullish on this race, even as Democrats insist the Democratic underpinnings of the district will hold for Esty. This is the most conservative district in a very Democratic state, and it was held by a Republican before Murphy won it in 2006.

One of the biggest unknowns at this point is what trickle-down effect the Senate race will have here. A strong turnout for Murphy could help push Esty over the edge.

Esty is slightly favored to win the race, but Roraback is no doubt in the hunt.


Gov. Paul LePage (R)

Electoral Votes: 4
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 58%/McCain 40%


Open Seat: Olympia Snowe (R) is retiring.

Outlook: Leans Independent

Since Snowe’s surprise retirement announcement, this has always been former Gov. Angus King’s seat to lose.

The popular and well-known Independent, who exudes a folksy Maine charm on the campaign trail, hasn’t done that yet. But national Republicans and their allies have been working hard to make this a race by knocking down King, who is expected to caucus with Democrats, and boosting the Democratic nominee, state Sen. Cynthia Dill.

Their strategy has obviously worked to some extent. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced on Sept. 25 that it bought $410,000 worth of television time in the Pine Tree State to hammer the Republican nominee, Secretary of State Charlie Summers.

Especially now that he has help from Washington, D.C., King remains the favorite to win this race. His independent profile fits the state quite well, and people all around Maine have fond memories of his time as governor. As long as Dill doesn’t eat away at too much of his Democratic base of support, King should be coming to the Senate.


2nd district | Incumbent: Mike Michaud (D)

5th term (55 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

There was a moment this cycle in which Michaud looked a bit vulnerable. Republicans had won sweeping victories in the district in 2010, and state Senate President Kevin Raye (R) appeared to be the perfect candidate to take on the well-liked incumbent.

But that moment passed, and it now looks like Michaud is poised to win re-election with comfort.


Gov. Deval Patrick (D)

Electoral Votes: 11
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 62%/McCain 36%


Incumbent: Scott Brown (R)

1st term (52 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Brown says he’s a regular guy, a hardworking, independent voice for Massachusetts who works across the aisle and votes on the basis of what’s right for his constituents rather than what’s right for his party.

Democrat Elizabeth Warren says she’s a fighter against entrenched interests, looking out for the little guy — for middle-class folks whose economic security has been gnawed away at by stagnant wages, big banks and a system rigged against them.

Both say they’ve come from humble beginnings. Both claim to understand the needs and desires of a broad swath of Bay State voters. Both have spent millions of dollars on television advertisements telling swing voters some version of their essential narrative. Both will spend millions more between now and Election Day undermining their opponent.

The majority of registered voters in Massachusetts, a liberal but surprisingly independent state, are unenrolled with either major party. The majority of voters will vote for President Barack Obama. Recent polls showed the Senate contest very close, with an edge for Warren and the majority of likely voters having a favorable opinion of Brown.

But Brown’s nice-guy persona won’t get him to the finish line in a state like Massachusetts.

If turnout matches GOP expectations for a presidential year, Brown would have to rack up about 65 percent of unaffiliated voters, 90 percent of registered Republicans and — this is where it gets tough — about 20 percent of registered Democrats. The way to a victory appears to be to undermine Warren, especially among blue-collar Democrats who are already wary of a Harvard University professor.

Warren just needs to hold her base and make good headway among independents.

It’s going to be close and nasty to the finish.


4th district | Open Seat: Barney Frank (D) is retiring.

Outlook: Safe Democratic

Camelot lives on with 32-year-old attorney Joe Kennedy III, who is poised to come to Congress after easy primary and general election victories in this newly configured district. The seat now runs from the liberal bastions of Newton and Brookline, right outside Boston, south to the border with Rhode Island.

Kennedy, the son of former Rep. Joe Kennedy (Mass.) and the grandson of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (N.Y.), has campaigned hard across the district, has been well-received and is likely to win and keep the seat until, perhaps, his ambitions lead him to higher office.

6th district | Incumbent: John Tierney (D)

8th term (57 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

The momentum is not with Tierney in this race. But the numbers are not with former state Sen. Richard Tisei (R) in this Democratic-leaning district. That makes this contest the truest kind of tossup.

Tisei, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2010, has proved himself to be a strong campaigner, an impressive fundraiser and a good fit for the district. He is socially libertarian (openly gay, supporter of gay marriage and abortion rights) and fiscally conservative (he says he never voted for a broad-based tax increase during his many years in the Massachusetts Legislature).

Tierney has been politically tarnished by the legal troubles of his wife and her family relating to an offshore gambling operation. Tierney’s wife, Patrice, went to prison on tax charges related to the gambling ring in 2011. The Congressman has not been implicated in any wrongdoing or illegality, but the link has damaged his stature.

Still, Tisei will have to pick off a lot of Obama voters, which is no small feat in Massachusetts. There has already been a lot of outside spending here from Republican-aligned groups, including about a million dollars from a super PAC founded by former aides of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.).

It looks like Democrats will come in heavy in the final weeks of the campaign for Tierney. This is a race worth watching until the bitter end.

New Hampshire

Gov. John Lynch (D)

Electoral Votes: 4
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 54%/McCain 45%


1st district | Incumbent: Frank Guinta (R)

1st term (54 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Guinta rode the tea party wave to Congress in 2010. Whether he is able to hold on will speak volumes about the national landscape. This district is the more Republican of the two New Hampshire seats, but it is still very competitive territory.

Guinta faces a rematch with former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, who Republicans argue remains a very weak candidate. Still, she has the backing of EMILY’s List and deep loyalties among the activist grass-roots base, and national Democrats remain very positive about her prospects.

The two New Hampshire districts switched control in the 2006 and 2010 partisan waves, and there is a real chance they could swing together again in 2012, despite the lack of a big national wave.

One reason the two seats have switched together is that they are in close enough proximity to share television markets. One of those markets, Boston, feeds several high-profile federal races and, as a result, is one of the priciest in the country. Ad space is expensive, but it could have a net benefit to Shea-Porter.

Much will ride on which presidential candidate carries the district in this key swing state. It is hard to imagine much of a crossover vote in either direction.

2nd district | Incumbent: Charles Bass (R)

1st term (48 percent; previously served six terms) | Outlook: Tossup

Bass began the election cycle as one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the House, and one month from Election Day, his status hasn’t changed much.

Attorney Ann McLane Kuster has run a vigorous campaign against Bass in a rematch from 2010, when Bass narrowly defeated her. She has essentially been running ever since.

The 2nd district is slightly less Republican than the 1st district, but both are in play. Both seats fall into the expensive Boston media market — one of the busiest of the cycle. President Barack Obama carried the district by 13 points in 2008. He won’t win by that much again this year, but it illustrates just how steep the climb is for Bass.

Kuster has had a sense of momentum from the beginning, but Bass is fighting hard.

Rhode Island

Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I)

Electoral Votes: 4
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 63%/McCain 35%


Incumbent: Sheldon Whitehouse (D)

1st term (54 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

Republicans are not targeting Whitehouse, who has solid favorability ratings at the end of his first term. Whitehouse ousted an incumbent in 2006 (Lincoln Chafee is now the Ocean State’s governor), but right now, it’s hard to see Whitehouse having a difficult re-election race in the future.


1st district | Incumbent: David Cicilline (D)

1st term (51 percent) | Outlook: Leans Democratic

Cicilline found himself in a heap of trouble early in his freshman term when it became clear that as Providence mayor he had misled residents about the city’s financial straits.

Republicans could not be more bullish on their recruit, Brendan Doherty, a former colonel of the Rhode Island State Police and superintendent of the Department of Public Safety.

Cicilline was forced to organize and go on television ahead of his mid-September primary. Democrats argue that the partisan lean of this district in very blue Rhode Island will ultimately help Cicilline prevail, even if they have to spend some resources to help him.

The Providence television market is not cheap. But in the hierarchy of House race spending, saving incumbents is always a priority over helping open-seat candidates and challengers.


Gov. Peter Shumlin (D)

Electoral Votes: 3
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 67%/McCain 30%


Incumbent: Bernie Sanders (I)

1st term (65 percent) | Outlook: Safe Independent

Sanders is a safe bet to return to the Senate for a second term.


At-large | Incumbent: Peter Welch (D)

3rd term (65 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

Welch faces no real challenge, and barring a surprise, he should coast to re-election.