Even in down-ballot races for state legislative seats, the Massachusetts GOP can't escape the shadow that national party standard-bearer Donald Trump casts over this election cycle.
The divisive race run between democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican counterpart Trump may result in record turnout at Massachusetts polls next week. Voters' enthusiasm, apathy or disgust for one or both of the two ticket-toppers could help alter the dynamics on Beacon Hill leading into Gov. Charlie Baker's 2018 reelection campaign.
Even though there's no shot in Hell that Trump will win the Bay State's electoral votes, Trump's performance Tuesday could make or break close State House races where the GOP is trying to hang on the few seats it has, Commonwealth Magazine contributor (and husband to a Democratic lawmaker) Brent Benson pointed out in October.
Every single member of the state Legislature is up for reelection on Tuesday, but Beacon Hill still won't see many changes next year. Seventy-seven percent of the Legislature's 200 seats are already pretty much settled since Republicans aren't challenging most sitting Democrats and Democrats are laying off most of the incumbent Republicans. There are other GOP challengers in some of the more conservative parts of the state, but come 2017 Republican Gov. Charlie Baker will still face an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature.
However, there will be at least some new faces from Cape Cod. Republicans are competitive in Barnstable County and the Trump-factor could end up being a boom or a bust for several State House candidates. Barnstable County Republican voters chose Trump over his GOP competitors in the primary, with The Donald capturing 51.6 percent of the vote. That makes Barnstable the fourth most Trump-friendly county, behind Essex, Plymouth and Bristol counties.
The biggest prize on the Cape is the State Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Dan Wolf, a business-minded liberal crusader who will return to his company Cape Air and advocacy work.
GOP candidate Anthony Schiavi hopes to flip the State Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Dan Wolf, but Democrat Julian Cyr is in a strong position to keep the seat blue. Schiavi, a retired Air Force general and Ashland town administrator, is banding with Republican running for House seats with several joint stand-outs and rallies this final weekend before the election. Baker is down the Cape Thursday door-knocking for his slate of endorsed Cape GOP candidates.
Beyond Baker's outreach to help pick up seats on the Cape, the state Republican Party is playing defense west and north of the city. Up Route 1, Democrat Jen Migliore is giving incumbent GOP Rep. Donald Wong a run for his money. And money is exactly the thing the party focused on this week when they accused Migliore of raising too big of a war chest from unions and political interests. Milgliore's campaign returned the $250 over the cape she received from Pipefitters Local 537, but Wong's party is still calling her out for being buoyed by organized labor.
Milgliore, a vocational school teacher from Saugus, has worked for Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Wong, a restaurateur, former selectman from Saugus, and and ever-present figure in the halls of the State House, beat a Democrat for the seat in 2010. The district includes Saugus, Wakefield and Lynn.
Worcester County went for Trump 48.6 percent, putting it in the middle of the state's primary support for the eventual nominee. If Trump's appearance on the ticket can turn out enough conservatives to stem the tide against the onslaught of Hillary Clinton support in Worcester, voters will return Rep. Kate Campanale to the House. Campanale faces Worcester Democrat Moses Dixon in a fierce race in this district split between bluer urban voters in the city and Campanale's redder hometown of Leicester.
The Campanale/Dixon race took a significant turn when Dixon's 2012 arrest for domestic assault was reported. Charges in the case were dropped and Democratic leaders are standing by Dixon.
The GOP will be playing defense in other House races where incumbents may be threatened by the expected high turnout of Democrats in the presidential year. Open House seats up for grabs could see Jones' small GOP minority expand, so long as few incumbents don't get blown away from their seats by gusts blowing With Her.
Rep. James Kelcourse faces a challenge from Democrat Brianna Sullivan, a lawyer and community planner from Amesbury, for the seat representing the district that also includes Newburyport and Salisbury.
The pair disagree on most of the hot-button issues to separate Democrats and Republicans in the state, like increased revenue for schools and Attorney General Maura Healey's crackdown on so-called "copycat" assault weapons.
The seat is fertile ground for Democrats to try to pick off an incumbent Republican. After former Rep. Michael Costello resigned in 2014, Kelcourse won the seat by only 10 votes. With Democrats expected to come out strong for Clinton in a presidential year, Kelcourse could have a fight on his hands.
Thought both parties don't expect major changes in the Legislature's makeup this election cycle, open seats could mean open season for both parties to try to win a seat or two for their side.
Democrat Natalie Higgins and Republican Thomas "Frank" Ardinger face off in Leominster. Ardinger has the backing of Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who is particularly popular in her native Central Massachusetts. The Navy veteran is running as a fiscal conservative looking ot boost jobs and the economy and to fight the opiate epidemic.
Higgins is an attorney and former State House intern, now working as the executive director of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, a group that advocates for stronger, better-funded public higher education.
Higgins and Ardinger are running to replace the retiring Democratic Rep. Dennis Rosa. The incumbent Rosa defeated his Republican challenger in 2014 with 55 percent of the vote.
Falmouth Rep. David Vieira is being challenged by a familiar opponent, former Rep. Matthew Patrick, for the southern Upper Cape seat he's held since beating Patrick in 2010. Patrick defeated Vieira by over 10 points in their first matchup in 2000, but the tables turned in 2010 when Vieira pulled off an eight-point victory. Since beating Patrick, Vieira hasn't faced any general election competition.
Democratic Milford Selectman Brian Murray wants to succeed Rep. John Fernandes as the representative from that town, Mendon, Hopedale and a part of Medway. The Blackstone Valley region of the state has gone for Republicans with some regularity in recent years, with Sen. Ryan Fattman knocking off Sen. Richard Moore in 2014 and surrounding House seats being held by the GOP. While Fernandes won in 2014 with 58.9 percent of the vote, Republicans hope voters will give GOP candidate and insurance agent Sandra Biagetti a look.
Democrat Aaron Kanzer and the GOP's William Crocker are running to fill the seat being left vacant by the retiring Democratic Rep. Brian Mannal, who pulled out a close victory in 2014 with 50.6 percent of the vote. Crocker is promoting bipartisan solutions to the opiate epidemic that's hit the Cape hard, homelessness and veteran's services. The 21-year old Kanzer is focusing on opiates and homeless as well (what cape candidate wouldn't?) and plans to address wastewater solutions to the mix.
And on the Senate side, Sen. Donald Humason is trying to retain his seat against Democrat Jerome Parker-O'Grady. That race became a point of contention for Baker when allegations came to light that staffers in his administration's Conservation and Recreation department may have threatened another state worker who happens to be engaged to Parker-O'Grady. There's no evidence that Humason, or Baker, were at all involved in the threats to move the staffer from Boston to the South Coast unless Parker-O'Grady dropped his campaign, but it certainly didn't' help the GOP candidate out west.