Challengers, not all GOP, seek upsets

By Robert Preer
Globe Correspondent / October 31, 2010

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Republican Geoff Diehl of Whitman had never run for public office before he launched his campaign against Democratic state Representative Allen J. McCarthy of East Bridgewater almost two years ago.

One of dozens of candidates seeking to unseat incumbents in Tuesday’s state election, Diehl has been knocking on doors for months in the three-town district of Abington, Whitman, and East Bridgewater. His campaign has done mailings, organized standouts, and run a phone bank. US Senator Scott Brown came to the district to lend his support.

With the election just two days away, the 41-year-old sign company executive and fiscal conservative is wary of predicting the outcome. “I almost feel like the expectant father waiting for the delivery,’’ Diehl said. “You’re just looking for good news.’’

Unseating an incumbent is never easy, even in a year when the country’s economic woes have stirred resentment toward those in power. In the Sept. 14 Massachusetts primary, only one incumbent state lawmaker lost.

“Incumbents come with so many ad vantages,’’ said Peter Ubertaccio, a political scientist at Stonehill College. “They have name recognition and established organizations. They usually have more resources.’’

McCarthy, 40, a two-term lawmaker and a lawyer, has been campaigning on his record as a legislator over the past four years. He says he has helped to deliver grants and local aid to the three towns. He maintains he has been a voice for reform on Beacon Hill, supporting reorganization of the state’s pension system and transportation agencies and backing new ethics rules.

“We’re feeling good about the reception we’ve been getting,’’ McCarthy said. “It has been very positive. Obviously, any race this year is going to be a challenge. We’ve known this was going to be a difficult environment.’’

Brown’s victory in the Jan. 19 special US Senate election energized the Republican grass-roots in Massachusetts, prompting many candidates to run against Democratic incumbents, who have dominated the state’s political landscape for two decades.

Three Democratic state senators from the south suburbs face Republican challengers who are established local elected officials. Thomas F. Keyes of Sandwich, a member of the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates, is running against Senate President Therese Murray of Plymouth. Taunton City Councilor David W. Pottier is challenging Senator Marc R. Pacheco of Taunton. Canton Selectman Robert E. Burr is running against Senator Brian A. Joyce of Milton.

Some of the state’s Republican office holders also face challenges from Democrats, who are hoping that anti-incumbent sentiment this year extends to GOP officials.

Democrat Josh Cutler, a former newspaper publisher and a member of the Duxbury Planning Board, is challenging Republican state Representative Daniel K. Webster of Pembroke. Cutler has waged an aggressive campaign, outspending the four-term incumbent by a more than 2-1 ratio.

Two top GOP county officials from the region face challenges. Democratic state Representative John F. Quinn of Dartmouth and independent Alan D. Garcia of Dartmouth, a retired State Police officer, are running against Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson of Dartmouth. Democrat John F. Shea of Marshfield, a lawyer and retired police officer, is challenging Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz of Marshfield.

Republican activists say they believe they have an opportunity to make inroads in the big Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate this year.

Christopher Fava, a Republican State Committee member from Plymouth, said Brown’s strong support in the region in the special Senate election demonstrates that voters like the Republican Party’s message of fiscal restraint. “I think this is going to be our best year since 1990,’’ he said.

In 1990, Republicans captured dozens of state and county offices that had been held by Democrats and came within four seats of taking control of the state Senate. Today, the 40-member Senate has only five Republicans.

David O’Reilly of Marshfield, chairman of the Plymouth County Democratic League, said Democratic incumbents in the region are running strong campaigns, and Democratic challengers have a good chance of unseating incumbent Republicans.

“Incumbency cuts both ways this year,’’ O’Reilly said.

Robert Preer can be reached at

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