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Dissecting Republicans' Troubles in New England

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Shays, a former GOP House member from Connecticut, is pessimistic about Republicans’ chances to recapture seats in the Northeast and called the situation “pretty desperate.”

Still, conditions were ripe in 2012 for the GOP: a Northeasterner topped the presidential ballot, two incumbent Democrats were plagued with political and ethical problems, Republicans had strong recruitment and polling was promising. On a tactical level, the party seemed to be doing everything right.

One Washington-based strategist conceded the national party has a problem with tone but there were other issues — turnout and polling.

He pointed to Tisei’s race.

“His unfavorables were through the roof,” the strategist said of Tierney. But the vulnerable lawmaker was boosted by Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign turnout machine, which is likely what proved the difference in the race.

Like many Republicans, this strategist is frustrated with the party’s polling — which fostered a false hope heading into Election Day.

“We botched it,” the strategist said. “Polling defines so much of resource allocation that it absolutely had an effect.”

There was probably no bigger blind side for the GOP than Democratic Rep.-elect Carol Shea-Porter’s defeat of Republican Rep. Frank Guinta in New Hampshire. Many Republicans believed Romney would carry the state, but Obama won by 6 points and the downballot drag was too great for Guinta.

Republicans said that tactical, polling and strategic lessons will be learned and implemented in a midterm year when the coattails effect will be mitigated.

Collins is up in 2014, but she is not considered to be in electoral trouble. She is popular and has established her own strong political brand as a moderate.

If Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., moves to the administration, the GOP is hopeful it can again win a special election in Massachusetts — possibly with Brown as their candidate again.

Republicans are also looking to recruit a top candidate against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire and take back one or both of the state’s House seats.

“New Hampshire may be where Republicans get a foothold to start working their way back,” a senior Capitol Hill staffer said.

Michael Fontneau is not nearly as optimistic. He is a Republican operative originally from Connecticut and worked for Shays for several cycles. He said the continual losses have sapped the enthusiasm out of donors, recruits and activists. The party is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I think the Northeast is just flat,” he said. “If you get beat in the face, you aren’t going to come back for more.”

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