Scouring the great Commonwealth for potentially competitive state senate contests, I find little to get my juices flowing. Nevertheless, in the spirit of desperately trying to gin up excitement, I am ranking the Top 5 districts most likely to change party hands in this year's elections.
All are currently Democratic-held seats; Republicans are just about out of seats to lose. Of the four they still have, it looks like three will go unchallenged, and the fourth, Bob Hedlund, is probably safe.
So, can the GOP pick up any seats, to improve upon their humiliating 10% representation? It doesn't look very good at the moment. As many as half of the 36 Democratic-held seats will have no Republican on the ballot. Many of those running are taking up hopeless causes (David Wyatt against Sonia Chang-Diaz, for example, and Thomas Dooley against Anthony Petruccelli), or are trying again after losing badly in 2010 (such as Daniel Dubrule against Stephen Brewer, and James Buba against Eileen Donoghue).
Note that I'm only looking at general-election match-ups; there are a few Democrats challenging within the party, but I'll visit that at another time.
And things could still change -- candidates have about ten more days to jump into the race and collect signatures -- but here are the Top 5 races as I see them now.
1. 1st Essex (Baddour). Steve Baddour has fled the statehouse, leaving this relatively conservative district up for grabs. Sam Meas, a solid candidate who lost a congressional primary in 2010, is favored to win the GOP nomination. Former Methuen mayor William Manzi, who announced his decision to run this week, is the insider's bet to get the Democratic nod. As of now, Meas-Manzi looks like the best race in the state.
2. Plymouth & Barnstable (Murray). Tom Keyes is back for another shot at the senate president, after coming within five percentage points in 2010. The district is a little better for Therese Murray now, and turnout in the Presidential year should help her as well. On the other hand, Keyes starts with better name recognition and campaigning skill, and I am told he will get more institutional support this time. Plus, there's the whole probation patronage scandal swirling around Murray. Few people I talk to think that Keyes can pull it off, but it's a realistic possibility.
3. 2nd Essex & Middlesex (Finegold). The GOP should have won this
open seat in 2010. They have a better candidate this time, in Andover
selectman Alex Vispoli -- and a problematic candidate, in freshman
representative Paul Adams. Adams got screwed by redistricting, so he's
taking his campaign-finance baggage up to the senate race. I suspect
Finegold survives either way, but it's a potential race.
4. 3rd Middlesex (Fargo). An open seat, where a wildly out-of-the-mainstream conservative candidate has been able to grab 45% of the vote against the incumbent, you would think that Susan Fargo's retirement would present a golden opportunity. And some think that Concord Selectman Greg Howes [spelling corrected] could beat whoever emerges from a very solid but superstar-free Democratic field. However, it seems likely that Howes, a reasonable conservative who downplays social issues, is doomed in the primary against above-mentioned wildly out-of-the-mainstream conservative, Sandi Martinez.
And here are five more long shots, in no particular order, to keep an eye on: Stephen Simonian against Michael Moore, 2nd Worcester; Sarah Schultz against Karen Spilka, 2nd Middlesex & Norfolk; Gerry Dembrowski against Kenneth Donnelly, 4th Middlesex; Jerry Lenihan against Marc Pacheco, 1st Plymouth & Bristol; Dominick King against Harriette Chandler, 1st Worcester.