Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has taken steps, since taking office last year, to exercise greater control over the Republican Party in Massachusetts—including recently supporting a slate of state GOP committee candidates, and establishing fundraising and spending mechanisms that will help his own re-election.
One thing he and his allies have not done, however, is make a serious effort to expand Republican presence and power in the state, by recruiting and backing candidates against Democratic incumbents.
That’s probably wise political strategy. Baker’s ability to accomplish things—from passing budget priorities to obtaining federal grants—depends largely on his working relationships with Democrats. Helping challengers tends to strain those relationships.
In state and county races, that has meant serious, well-funded candidates are emerging only for open seats: Weymouth City Councilor Pat O’Connor running in a state Senate special election, for example; and Peabody City Councilor Anne Manning-Martin for sheriff in Essex County.
As for congressional races, where all nine Democrats are expected to seek re-election? Well, with just a couple of weeks left before the filing deadline, we got a look last week at just how little competition to expect.
First-quarter fundraising reports, covering January through March, show that only one of the nine incumbents, Rep. Bill Keating, has an opponent raising significant money for a campaign.
Two Republicans are actively running in that district, which covers the South Shore and Cape Cod. One, Tom O’Malley, has raised just a little over $5,000. The more serious threat is Mark Alliegro, a Tea Party activist from Waquoit, a small village of Falmouth.
Alliegro raised $88,000 in the three-month period, and put an additional $26,000 of his own into the campaign. He has support from anti-establishment conservatives, including state Reps. Geoff Diehl and Shaunna O’Connell, and consultant Holly Robichaud. That’s not a group Baker has tended to side with much these days.
The only other challenger raising money through March was Ann Wofford, who raised $1,360 in what figures to be a reprise of her little-noticed 2014 campaign against Rep. Niki Tsongas.
There are other Republicans reportedly trying to launch congressional campaigns, including three long-shot hopefuls in Rep. Joe Kennedy’s district, and one in Rep. Steve Lynch’s.
Meanwhile, all nine incumbents continue to pad their campaign war chests, for challenges that never seem to materialize. Keating has the smallest stash, ending March with a little over $500,000 in his committee. Rep. Richard Neal has the biggest, at $2.7 million.
The upshot: It doesn’t appear that November’s election will end the Commonwealth’s 20-year streak without a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives—a stretch that began when Peter Blute and Peter Torkildsen lost their re-election bids in 1996.
Both Blute and Torkildsen first won election in 1992—the first election cycle after another moderate Republican, Baker’s former boss, Bill Weld, raised hopes for a Republican resurgence in the state by winning the governorship. It doesn’t look like Baker is going to waste any effort trying to matching that result.
All 12 of New England’s other U.S. House members are running for re-election this year, and for the 10 Democrats among that group the situation is not much different than in Massachusetts.
Republican have raised small amounts so far in challenges to Rep. David Cicilline in Rhode Island; Rep. Ann McLane Kuster in New Hampshire; and Rep. Elizabeth Esty and Rep. Jim Himes in Connecticut.
The biggest fundraiser among Republican challengers in the area is little-known Ande Smith, a Yarmouth, Maine, attorney and small businessman. He has raised close to $100,000 for his campaign against Rep. Chellie Pingree.
Another to watch is Pam Tucker, a Republican running in New Hampshire—in the primary against scandal-plagued Rep. Frank Guinta.
Tucker—not the only one taking on Guinta from within his own party—raised $75,000 and contributed another $25,000 herself.
Guinta, meanwhile, raised just $96,000 himself for the three months. And, his campaign committee finally paid back $355,000 to his parents, as the Federal Election Commission ordered him to do. The FEC determined that the funds, which Guinta claimed were a loan from himself, were actually illegal contributions from his parents in 2010.
That repayment has left Guinta with just $76,000 left in his campaign account—and yet more questions about the funds. The Concord Monitor has reported that Guinta has previously “repayed” himself $81,500 of that “loan,” which was not actually a loan and has now been repaid in full.
“What happened to the extra $81,500”? the Monitor asked in an editorial this weekend. “Did it just go into Guinta’s pocket? The congressman won’t say.”
Guinta is one of two Republicans in the U.S. House from New England; Democrats are hoping to defeat both, and return to the all-Democrat status of two years ago.
Former congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter led the first-quarter fundraising battle in that New Hampshire race, but with a less-than-stellar $170,307. She has a little over $250,000 on hand—an unimpressive showing for a high-profile name in a high-priority takeover opportunity.
That leaves plenty of room for another Democrat, Shawn O’Connor. He raised less than Shea-Porter for the quarter, but the businessman had previously loaned his campaign a million dollars—plenty to get a strong campaign off the ground in the Granite State.
The area’s other Republican House member, Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine, will be tougher to topple than Guinta. He raised a hefty $329,000 for the three-month period, and has $1.8 million banked.
But Emily Cain, the only remaining Democrat going after Poliquin, is showing signs of strength. She outraised Poliquin for the reporting period, taking in $385,000. Cain now has $785,000 on hand.
Both should easily outraise, and outspend, their own campaigns two years ago, when Cain raised around $1.8 million and Poliquin raised a little less than that. Their rematch is already shaping up as the most expensive—and perhaps closest—congressional contest in New England.