(The following feature ran in this week’s Region section and is re-produced here in full.)
When Jennifer A. Nassour, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, looks into the future to Election Day 2010, she sees the promise of a major change in the complexion of the state Legislature.
“There are plenty of candidates, so if everyone won (their races), we actually turn the tide a lot and change the course” of state government, Ms. Nassour said. “I feel optimistic about everything right now.”
Ms. Nassour was on the Cape Monday to accompany David T. Vieira of Falmouth, Republican candidate for State Representative of the Third Barnstable District, as he met with residents and business owners in Mashpee.
“We’re doing this for candidates here and there,” Ms. Nassour said of her trip to the Cape, part of a statewide effort to give select candidates an extra boost through personal appearances. “I wish I had time to hit everyone.”
Preventing that wish from coming true: a lack of time and, for the first time in several years, an abundance of candidates.
Mr. Vieira is one of eight Cape Cod Republicans running for legislative seats this year, and according to Ms. Nassour one of 109 Republicans running for the Massachusetts Legislature — “Twice as many as in 2008,” she noted — making this the most active field of GOP candidates since the ill-fated “Romney Reform Team” initiative of 2004.
That effort, which assembled 131 Republicans to challenge Democratic incumbents, ended with the GOP experiencing a net loss of two seats in the Legislature. Critics speculated that the initiative failed because of the aggressively negative tone of many of the races, coupled with the fact that many candidates were not established residents of the districts in which they ran.
Dr. Gail B. Lese and Timothy E. Duncan, Romney Reform Team candidates for the region’s two Senate seats in 2004, were not full-time Cape residents; Dr. Lese moved to the area two months before announcing her candidacy, and Mr. Duncan owned a summer home in Falmouth but claimed Cambridge as his permanent residence.
Ms. Nassour said the Romney Reform Team recruits “might not have had their finger to the pulse” of their adopted districts, while many of this year’s hopefuls “were locally elected officials that now stepped it up and are running for state rep, state senate” in their districts. “They have a base, they know their neighborhoods, they know their districts, they know the people that are in there, they understand the on-the-ground issues.”
Ms. Nassour said she felt extremely confident in this year’s crop of candidates, calling it “the best team that we’ve had in two decades,” and believed that lingering voter dissatisfaction with the status quo of state government would propel many of these legislative hopefuls to wins next month over their incumbent opponents.
“There’s a lot of anger and frustration out there” over the thin job market, the still-weakened economy, and a series of tax hikes championed by the Democratic legislative majority and Governor Deval L. Patrick, Ms. Nassour said. “There are candidates on the ballot that won’t put that they’re incumbents. They don’t want anyone to know they’ve been up there making the wrong decisions.”
She added that there are across the state several open seats – eight in the state Senate, 20 in the House – and she said many of those are due to incumbents who stepped down because “they didn’t want to face challengers.”
“Many Opportunities” On Cape
This year there are two open seats within the Cape delegation, one of them being State Senator of the Cape and Islands District; State Senator Robert A. O’Leary (D – Barnstable) opted not to run for re-election to instead focus on his ultimately unsuccessful Congressional run.
Republican James H. Crocker Jr. of Osterville and Democrat Daniel A. Wolf of Harwich have emerged as the two contenders for that seat, and Ms. Nassour said Mr. Crocker stands an excellent chance of reclaiming a post that, until Sen. O’Leary’s election to the Senate in 2000, had been held by Republicans for 140 years.
“Jim Crocker – amazing candidate,” she said, “and I think that no matter how much money his opponent has, it doesn’t make a difference because at the end of the day voters are looking for someone that they can connect with. They’re not looking for the richest guy on the road to buy an election.”
Ms. Nassour identified F. Randal Hunt of Sandwich as another local candidate in a prime position to win a race for an open seat — in this case the race for State Representative of the Fifth Barnstable District.
“He has so many opportunities there, I think that’s a great one for us,” she said, noting that Mr. Hunt hails from the same town as State Representative Jeffrey D. Perry (R – Sandwich), who has served the district since 2002.
She described another Sandwich Republican, Thomas F. Keyes, as “an amazing candidate” and a “very viable alternative” to Senate President Therese M. Murray (D – Plymouth). “He just kind of understands what people are going through right now in trying to raise a family and trying to make a buck.”
Although Sen. Murray holds one of the most powerful positions in state government and boasts an imposing campaign war chest, Ms. Nassour said Mr. Keyes holds an advantage in that he is not part of the entrenched State House establishment. To overcome Sen. Murray, Ms. Nassour said Mr. Keyes needs to focus on “showing that he’s a viable alternative to someone who has spent way too long on Beacon Hill, who can be very affected by special interests.”
“I think that he has something that voters are actually looking for, and we will see him pick up steam,” she said.
The state GOP is also keeping a very close eye on the hotly contested race for US Representative of the 10th Congressional District. Rep. Perry emerged from this month’s primary as the party’s standard bearer in that race, and will face Democrat William R. Keating, and three unenrolled candidates: Maryanne Lewis, James Sheets, and Joseph van Nes.
Ms. Nassour called that contest “a fantastic opportunity for the Republican Party to pick up a seat again” in the US House of Representatives. “Jeff Perry is a quality candidate. He’s been a great state rep, he’s known and loved down here for all the work that he does and for kind of being the outspoken voice on Beacon Hill, and I’m sure he’ll do the same on Capitol Hill.”
The Massachusetts US House delegation consists entirely of Democrats. Eight of the returning incumbents have Republican challengers.
The other big race for the party is for the Corner Office, as Charles D. Baker Jr. attempts to unseat incumbent Deval L. Patrick, and Ms. Nassour dismissed the idea that Mr. Baker’s campaign has failed to effectively capitalize on Gov. Patrick’s lagging approval ratings.
“Charlie has absolutely hit his stride,” she said, adding that Mr. Baker’s poll numbers are following the same track Gov. Patrick’s 2006 campaign followed. “Charlie has actually all along been on pace with where Deval was in 2006 when he was running against Kerry Healey,” at the time the state’s lieutenant governor under W. Mitt Romney. “Same exact numbers.”
She said this week’s Boston Globe poll, which had the governor and Mr. Baker in a virtual dead heat, was “the telling sign…if you take out (unenrolled candidate) Tim Cahill and put those voters where they’re supposed to be, with Baker, Baker is far ahead of where Deval is.”
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