Mass. delegation braces for GOP challenges

By Farah Stockman, Bryan Bender, and Donovan Slack
Globe Staff / January 21, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

WASHINGTON - Scott Brown’s Senate victory Tuesday sent shock waves through the Massachusetts congressional delegation, many members of which saw key communities in their districts vote overwhelmingly Republican.

Democrats and Republicans said the results foretell a surge of two-party competition in districts that haven’t seen serious challenges in years, as the state’s exclusively Democratic roster of 10 representatives faces its 2010 reelection amid rising anger over the battered economy and the prolonged battle over the health care overhaul.

“I think that they’re all going to have challengers, and they all are going to have to take their challengers seriously this time,’’ said Matthew Sisk, a member of the Republican State Committee.

Gleeful Republican strategists said three House members looked particularly vulnerable after the strong Republican turnout for Brown in their districts: Niki Tsongas of Lowell, James McGovern of Worcester, and William Delahunt, of Quincy.

Last night, Joseph D. Malone, a former two-term state treasurer and Republican gubernatorial candidate from Scituate, told the Globe that he is almost certainly going to run against Delahunt for the 10th District.

“I have become more and more inspired to look at this race for Congress, given the new spirit that exists in Massachusetts,’’ he said. “I have had hundreds of conversations with people over the last several weeks, and I have gotten from those conversations a sense that people want major change down in Washington.’’

Delahunt ran unopposed in 2008, and won over 60 percent of the votes in the previous three elections. But Tuesday’s election shows the district voted Republican, from Delahunt’s own city of Quincy down through Cape Cod, with the exception of Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and the area around Provincetown.

“I would say Delahunt could be the surprise,’’ said Todd Domke, Republican analyst.

Delahunt said in a statement that voters are angry. “They want us to work together to get the economy back on track, and they want more jobs,’’ he said. “They also want us to get spending under control and fix health care - but in a way that’s simple, transparent, and understandable.”

Yesterday, Delahunt significantly backed away from his strong support of the health care bill in comments on MSNBC. The adviser said that Delahunt had been considering such a move for months, but that Brown’s election on Tuesday convinced him most constituents would support a new approach.

In an interview yesterday, McGovern said he would be preparing for a tough fight in November, even though he also ran unopposed two years ago and has held office since 1996.

“Some people will come out of the woodwork to go after me,’’ he said. “There is clearly a lot of angst out there . . . We need to do a better job of communicating that we are spending the people’s money wisely.’’ Early indications are that Martin Lamb of Holliston will challenge McGovern.

Republican strategists also said they saw a possible opening in the Fifth District, a northern chunk of the state where Tsongas held off an aggressive bid by a Republican candidate to win a special election in 2007. The district has been represented by a Democrat for more than three decades. But on Tuesday, Brown prevailed in Lowell, Tsongas’s base, with 10,548 to Coakley’s 9,547. In the town of Dracut, voters favored him more than 2 to 1.

“There is no denying we are in a time of real uncertainty and frustration,’’ Tsongas in a telephone interview. “If you think of where we were a year ago, we have averted a real [economic] disaster . . . but we have to do more. That is what the voters are saying. I hear it loud and clear.’’

The deadline for candidates to submit voters’ signatures for a 2010 congressional run is May 4. While that gives the party time to recruit, success for Republicans is by no means assured, despite Brown’s strong showing. The independent voters who turned out heavily and tipped the balance to Brown on Tuesday have been known to split their votes between parties, routinely reelecting their local Democratic congressman, say, while also picking Republican governors.

Also, incumbents traditionally are better-funded. Republican Jon Golnik, Tsongas’s challenger, has raised about $50,000 in five weeks. By comparison, Tsongas has raised $413,755 since the beginning of 2009 and has $137,872 in cash in her campaign account, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2007, she spent about $2.3 million to win the special election.

Delahunt has raised $136,330 so far this cycle, but had $629,323 left over from previous election cycles. As recently as the 2006 election, he raised more than $1 million. McGovern had raised $485,213 this cycle and had $564,933 in cash on hand.

Republicans, however, said a newly discovered “Brown effect’’ would persuade strong challengers to run and donors to give.

“It is clear that when we do put up good candidates, we can win,’’ said Bill Hudak, a Boxford attorney who is campaigning to unseat Representative John Tierney in the Sixth District.

But Representative Edward J. Markey, who has represented the Seventh District since 1977, said national Republicans will waste their money if they try to unseat Massachusetts Democrats.

“If that is their strategy,’’ he said, “who am I to stop them?’’

Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Alan Wirzbicki contributed to this report.