Election week may be over, but the effects are still sinking in. After the weekend, we know that Democrats will keep control of the Senate. Republicans might control the House when all the votes are counted. But there certainly was no “red wave.”

But Ted Nesi, political and economic reporter for WPRI in Rhode Island, points out that here in New England there was a “blue wave.” He joined GBH’s All Things Considered to discuss what an all-Democratic delegation in Congress will mean, and the decline of the Republican Party in New England.

Arun Rath: So, Ted, this didn't really hit me until I heard you say it last week. Democrats have now been elected to all 26 statewide and federal offices in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Put that in some context for us. Is that unheard of?

Ted Nesi: Yeah, Arun. I mean, I cover both Rhode Island and Massachusetts here in Providence-New Bedford market. And so I was watching the elections in Massachusetts — and I was also closely covering the Rhode Island ones — and there was a big congressional race as people up there might have heard in Rhode Island that we thought might go to the Republicans for the first time in 30 years.

And as the returns started to come in, there was not only no red wave, I said, “Oh, I think I think the Democrats are going to pull this out.” And in the end, the Democratic congressional candidate, Seth Magaziner, held that seat. Over the border in Bristol County, Massachusetts, we saw Sheriff Thomas Hodgson was defeated, a longtime Republican incumbent in this region. Many thought he was still unbeatable.

And so I sort of step back, and we've all thought for years — we've watched the sort of decline of Republican Party fortunes in this region. But I still think this was different. Because through the years, there have always been an outlier Republican — at least one in a major office, like Gov. [Charlie] Baker for the last eight years or, before that, there was John Chafee and his son, Lincoln Chafee, who represented Rhode Island in the U.S. Senate for many, many years — and were quite popular, in both cases, as Republicans.

Gov. Charlie Baker joins MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak and other MBTA officials at a press conference announcing the end to closures on the Green and Orange lines of the T, Sunday, Sept 18, 2022
Tori Bedford GBH News

And yet, with Baker leaving and that congressional race going to the Democrats, I looked back in history all the way to the 1920s — and then I stopped, because Republicans had been more powerful back then. There was never a time without one of those federal and state seats having a Republican elected to them in all these years. There's a brief period in 2013 where Link Chafee became a Democrat — he was governor of Rhode Island — but I don't really count that. This is the first time the voters have put a Democrat in every one of those offices in both states.

"It's getting harder to see where that next Republican comes from."
Ted Nesi, WPRI’s politics editor

Rath: As you point out, here in Massachusetts, we have this tradition of beloved moderate Republican governors. And that whole line that you've laid out — with Charlie Baker gone, is he the last of that line? Is Baker the last of that kind of Republican here?

Nesi: Well, and that's the question, right? You know, I think on the one hand, of course, you never know what's going to happen in politics — so I don't want to say anything you can play back to me in a couple of years, Arun. But on the other hand, it's getting harder to see where that next Republican comes from.

And I would point again to this congressional race in Rhode Island's second District, which is the western half of Rhode Island: Warwick, Cranston, as well as a part of Providence. Allan Fung, popular moderate Cranston mayor, was running for that seat. Republicans all the way up to [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy were hoping he would switch it. He ran as a moderate. Charlie Baker actually held a fundraiser for him and put out a photograph of the two of them, sort of showing: "Fung is in my lineage. He's one of us, the moderate Republicans." And Fung lost. So he could have been kind of the one the baton was handed to in this region. But he couldn't pull it out. He lost by three or four points.

And so Fung losing in Rhode Island, it's not clear who the next Republican with the stature to try to go for one of these seats would be in Rhode Island.

I think the same thing's true in Massachusetts, where the Republican Party is now so divided that Baker didn't even endorse the Republican nominee for governor this cycle, which is kind of wild. So, of course, it's possible a Republican could come along — maybe in a different bad year for Democrats — but if Democrats were this strong this year when they controlled every single office almost already, it's hard to see what's going to change that, particularly when the national party just isn't very popular up here.

Rath: As you're saying that, this feels kind of abrupt in its way. Especially with today's Republican Party in terms of Donald Trump, and we see that's happened here in New England, that the Republican Party has gotten more Trump-y and the fortunes of seem to have kind of gone along with that — that that's not not very “New England-y” in terms of what's mainstream here.

Is this deeper than Trump? I mean, has this been going on longer? And we just have not been aware of it in terms of the direction of the Republican Party here?

Nesi: I actually think you're right about that, Arun, yes. I think I think for a lot of us who cover politics, it was obscured because there was always some very prominent outlier like Charlie Baker. Scott Brown, briefly, in the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. Rhode Island had Republican governors consistently from 1994 all the way to 2010.

So, for a lot of years, I think because the Republicans were still occasionally having success at the gubernatorial level — and even once in a while at the federal level, as with Scott Brown — it seemed like, "Okay, there's still a path for them, even though they're clearly in the minority."

But after this election cycle, I just wonder: who's next? You know, who is the Republican out there? Charlie Baker was kind of groomed by the folks around Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci to be kind of the next man up — eventually — of that wing of the Republican Party. Baker's wing was defeated for leadership of the state party, at least. And I also think it's getting harder for those Republicans to square the circle of being aligned enough with the national party that local Republicans still like them, but distant enough from the national party that they can win a statewide or federal race in either Massachusetts or Rhode Island.

I'm not saying it's impossible. I just think we may have reached a new tipping point that's just going to be really tough for Republicans to come back from.

Rath: So with this being the situation with the statewide races, there still are plenty of conservatives in New England. And I recall, from your reporting, seeing that map of Rhode Island — and it's the similar thing as there is here in Massachusetts, that the conservatives tend to be farther away from the coasts. What I'm wondering is, are we just, as states and as a region, becoming more divided in that way?

Nesi: Yeah, it does start to feel that way. You have this divide between the coasts and the interior at the national level, obviously. And yeah, I think you see that in Rhode Island and Massachusetts as well.

I saw Congressman Bill Keating got 93% of the vote up in Provincetown. And obviously, you know, Provincetown is probably going to go for Democrats, but 93% is still a huge margin. Congressman David Cicilline in Rhode Island, a Democrat, got 87% of the vote in Providence. I mean, just the margins are just massive in these liberal precincts, even though they were already big. But right now, it just seems like you just have this clear divide.

And again, I was very surprised to see Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson go down here in our region. When someone like Tom Hodgson can't win in a somewhat Republican-friendly area with the advantages of incumbency, etc., it's sort of the period on the end of the sentence of how moderate Republicans have been declining in this region.

Rath: So we're still waiting to find out who will control the the House. But let's say the Republicans do regain control. That means it will have some prominent Democrats in the New England delegation losing leadership positions on committees. Do you have a sense of what that might mean for New England's sway in D.C.?

Nesi: Well, that's a great point. The Democrats may have won the battle decisively up here in New England, but they haven't nationally. So, yeah, it's kind of like: either the Democrats have control in Washington, which means New England has a ton of power, but if the tide goes out and the Republicans take control, there's nobody in the majority party, at least in the House, that can speak up for New England. It will be interesting to see how an all-Democratic delegation — without even a Republican governor around, maybe, to make some calls — navigates when Washington gets more red, whether now or in the future.

Rath: This is all fascinating. Ted, thank you.

Nesi: Thanks so much for having me.

Rath: That's Ted Nesi, political and economic reporter for WPRI. This is GBH’s All Things Considered.