Every time you think that Massachusetts Republican Party has hit its lowest possible ebb, they surprise you by falling even further.
This is especially true in the state senate. At the end of the 1990s the GOP caucus was down to 7 (from a high of 16 after the 1990 election), which seemed like surely the bottom -- but no, they dropped to 6 in the 2000 election. And even that wasn't the bottom; they now hold just 5 of the 40 seats.
But surely, this year would change everything -- another 1990 wave election, I was told. The combination of the bad economy, Beacon Hill scandal, the national Republican wave, and a large number of open seats would result in big gains for the GOP.
With a week to go, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. In fact, it seems increasingly likely that the GOP could lose a seat in the senate. Seriously. Hard to believe, but it could really happen.
Part of the problem, as even Republican insiders say, is that their best candidates this cycle are in unwinnable races. Chris Dent, Ed McGrath, David Pottier, and Kimberly Roy have impressed people, but are unlikely to defeat incumbents Tom McGee, Karen Spilka, Marc Pacheco, or Richard Moore respectively.
Those candidates will, at least, be in strong position to run again; this is what the MassGOP should have been doing in previous cycles -- helping good candidates run good first losing campaigns, to get experience and name recognition.
Unfortunately for the party, they've been left with pretty weak candidates in the more winnable races.
Aside from the four GOP incumbents running for re-election (Tarr, Hedlund, Knapik, and Ross), there are really only two districts where insiders -- of both parties -- think the Republican candidate is running even.
One is the open Cape & Islands seat being vacated by Democrat Robert O'Leary, who took a (barely) unsuccessful stab at the Congressional nomination. The district was Republican before O'Leary, and is considered among the most conservative in the state -- plus, GOP turnout was expected to be high, both to vote against Deval Patrick and to vote for Jeff Perry in the Congressional race. With support for Baker pretty blase, and support for Perry dropping in the wake of the latest strip-search stories, that might not be such an advantage. Meanwhile, mostly self-funded Democrat Daniel Wolf is killing Republican candidate James Crocker in the money race -- as of October 15 (the pre-general filing date), Wolf had $45,127 in his account, and Crocker had just $4605.
The other close race is Republican LG candidate Richard Tisei's Middlesex & Essex district, where Republican Craig Spadafora faces state representative Katherine Clark. Their money race is pretty even -- thanks in large part to Spadafora putting $50,000 in for himself -- and the GOP heavy machinery, such as it is, has been helping Spadafora. Nevertheless, Democrats seem increasingly confident that Clark will prevail.
Beyond those two races, it's tough to find any good chances for the GOP, unless we really see a huge partisan turnout differential -- the "enthusiasm gap" we've been hearing so much about.
The rest of the open seats don't look promising. The best chance is probably in Susan Tucker's district, where I'm told Jamison Tomasek is putting up a good fight, but is unlikely to overcome state rep Barry Finegold's voter base and money advantage. The seats of Stephen Buoniconti, Joan Menard, Michael Morrissey, Steven Panagiotakos, and Marian Walsh look pretty safe for the Dems.
As for potentially vulnerable Democratic incumbents, the big target -- Susan Fargo -- got saved when very nice but very out-there Sandra Martinez beat Eric Dahlberg in the Republican primary; Neal Heeren isn't quite in Jennifer Flanagan's league; Gale Candaras got Tom McCarthy, another nice guy who just ain't gonna win; and senate president Therese Murray will pull out all the stops to make sure Thomas Keyes doesn't actually topple her.
One silver lining for the Republicans is that they are forcing a number of Democrats to use up their campaign war chests, potentially making them more vulnerable next time around. But of course, 2012 won't hold the same advantages that the GOP was supposed to have this year. No matter; recent history has taught us that regardless of the situation, the MassGOP will find a way to lose.