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ANALYSIS

Steep slide for Mass. GOP

That thud last night was the sound of the Republican Party hitting bottom in Massachusetts.

With the end of the GOP's 16-year hold on the offices of governor and lieutenant governor, Bay State Democrats in 2007 will enjoy a political monopoly unequalled by either party in any state in the country.

In January, Democrats will hold all six statewide constitutional offices, all 12 seats in Congress, roughly 7-to-1 majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature, and all eight seats on the Governor's Council.

With returns still incomplete late last night, Republicans' numbers dropped by one in the state Senate, which would drop the GOP to an all-time low of five seats in the 40-member upper chamber, and in close fights for several House seats. The highest ranking Republican officeholders in the state will be a smattering of district attorneys and county sheriffs.

The party's slide has been so precipitous that Republicans yesterday did not contest 130 of 200 legislative seats, fielded a challenger in only three of 10 congressional districts, and put up fewer candidates for statewide office (three) than the Green-Rainbow Party (four).

Even in 1986, the previous modern low point for Republicans in the Bay State, the GOP held a seat in Congress and more than a dozen additional seats in the Legislature. In those days, it was sometimes said that Republicans were a third party in Massachusetts, behind liberal Democrats and conservative Democrats.

The party's numbers in the Legislature have continued to ebb steadily for a decade, even after Governor Mitt Romney's aggressive, well-financed assault on the Democratic Legislature two years ago. It was a disaster as Republicans actually lost a net three seats to the Democrats. As he explores a candidacy for president, Romney leaves behind a party in ruins in his own state.

Republicans yesterday voiced frustration, dejection, and a trace of anger at their party's descent. Some said they feared Democratic fiscal policies will result in continued loss of population and businesses to other states. Others predicted that Democrats will abuse their power, opening the door for a GOP revival in the future.

"You cannot find a conservative equivalent to this anywhere in the country," said Peter I. Blute, a Republican who served two terms in Congress before losing his seat in the Clinton Democratic landslide of 1996. "The state faces a choice: Do we want the debate to be between moderate Republicanism and liberal Democratism or between liberal Democrats and the Green-Rainbow Party?" Blute said.

"Massachusetts is way out on a limb here," said Blute, now a radio talk show host in Worcester. "It already has a kooky reputation in the rest of the country. There is no doubt about that."

"We're not dead in the water. We won't give up, I'll tell you that," said Jody Dow, the state's Republican national committeewoman. "We're going to rise up and make the changes we have to make. ... One party cannot control everything without a semblance of balance; it just doesn't work."

"The Democrats got Boardwalk and Park Place, and now there's a monopoly," said Dorothy Early, a Republican State Committee member from Haverhill. "Shame on the citizens of Massachusetts to give it away like this. ... We'll be back again. The taxes will go crazy and people will realize what great fiscal discipline Republicans had."

"I've seen this movie before, and now it's time for our party to get back to the outsider, watchdog role which has been so successful during times in which the other party totally dominated the state's government," Charles Manning, a Republican consultant, said. "We know they will screw it up. It's up to us to make sure the voters know when they do."

Republican National Committeeman Ron Kaufman was philosophical but saw the potential for opportunity, perhaps even two years from now.

"We've been lucky to have this thing for 16 years. Given the size of the party here, what were the odds of that?" he said of the GOP's hold on the corner office. He said the state electorate reflected the national mood. "It was time for a change, and change is a powerful political message," said Kaufman, a lobbyist and former aide to President George H.W. Bush.

"There needs to be a sharpening of the message of who we are," Kaufman said. "The press likes to say the Republican Party is about cutting spending, cutting taxes, saving babies, and carrying guns. But the truth is we're the party of good governing, the good shepherds of the people's resources and money. When we do it right, we win, when we don't we lose."

"The voters have given the fox the keys to the chicken coop," said Kaufman, predicting that as governor, Deval Patrick will face enormous pressure from labor unions and other interest groups who helped him win yesterday. "He'll have a huge spending problem."

Kaufman predicted a reversal of Republican fortunes in Massachusetts in 2008, particularly if Romney is running for president and Senator John F. Kerry relinquishes his seat in the US Senate. That could create a chain reaction of Democrats trying to move up -- congressmen gunning for Kerry's seat, state legislators running for their open congressional seats.

Romney's popularity has sagged badly during his frequent travels, but Manning, who has worked on Romney's Massachusetts campaigns, said a national candidacy could restore some pride among Republicans and GOP-friendly independents back home.

James Rappaport, a former state party chairman and frequent Romney critic, took a harsher view.

"Locally, this is a rebuke to Mitt Romney and checking out within six months after being elected and having accomplished almost nothing," said Rappaport, whom Romney rejected as a running mate in favor of Kerry Healey four years ago.

"Mitt Romney, through his stalwart efforts, has managed to bring our party back to where it was in 1986," he said.

"What brought us back then was a commitment to principles; not just lower taxes for the sake of lower taxes but because we were chasing businesses out of the state," he said.

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