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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.”

Amid the post-Election Day autopsies happening within the GOP, one of the greatest points of strategic divide is what went wrong in New England and how to move ahead.

In the next Congress, there won’t be a single Republican House member from the region and just two senators: Susan Collins of Maine and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Some in the party said the trouble this year was mechanical in nature and blame presidential turnout and polling for their losses. Others are of the thought that until the GOP changes its tone about social issues, any Republican will have a difficult time winning federal office in New England.

Former Rep. Christopher Shays resides solidly in the pessimistic camp.

“Pretty desperate,” the Connecticut Republican said in describing the state of the party in his native region. “The brand is not good in New England.”

The GOP’s “brand” problem comes up often in conversations with New England Republicans.

The last time congressional Republicans were practically decimated in the region was 2006 and 2008, banner years for Democrats. Then, the problem was Iraq. Now it is social issues. Shays and others blame Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock and Missouri Senate hopeful Todd Akin for exacerbating the problem. But they also blame the lengthy GOP presidential primary they said lasted too long and forced the eventual nominee too far to the right.

Both of New Hampshire’s Republican congressmen lost Nov. 6. But even more disappointing for party strategists was their inability to pick off either of the two vulnerable Democratic lawmakers in New England or win a competitive open seat in Connecticut.

Republican Richard Tisei, who challenged Rep. John F. Tierney in Massachusetts, lost by 1 point. In Connecticut’s 5th District, state Sen. Andrew Roraback lost by 3 points against Rep.-elect Elizabeth Esty.

Some Republicans argue that seats such as that one are still winnable and the GOP will do better next cycle. There is already talk about Roraback running again in 2014, although it is unclear if he is interested or if he could make it through another primary.

The moderate won a crowded GOP primary this year, but in the general election Democrats were successfully able to argue that a vote for him was a vote for the GOP’s national leadership.

“I view my race not as a reason for pessimism,” Roraback said. “I think my race was a reason for optimism for our party because it shows that victory is within reach for Republicans in New England.”

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