If Republicans lose on Tuesday for the second time in the past seven months, the Bay State’s short run as a stomping ground for competitive Senate races will come to an abrupt halt.
Former Sen. Scott P. Brown’s surprise win started it all in 2010, but GOP nominee Gabriel Gomez appears unlikely to pull off an encore performance in the special election to replace Secretary of State John Kerry. In recent days, polls showed Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey with a sizable lead over Gomez in the state’s third Senate race in as many years.
A Gomez loss, especially by a double-digit margin, would offer GOP donors, operatives and prospective statewide candidates for federal office even less incentive to expend the time and resources needed to win Massachusetts in 2014. The defeat would also further highlight the GOP’s recent disappearing act among New England's congressional delegations.
“Massachusetts is one of the most Democratic states in the country, and was always going to be an uphill climb for us without Scott Brown on the ballot, or Obamacare as the decisive issue," GOP pollster Dan Judy said. "If Markey wins [on Tuesday], it's doubtful it will be competitive next year — unless Brown decides to give it another shot or Gomez loses very close."
Until then, Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Susan Collins of Maine will be their party's only members of Congress from the region. And in 2014, the GOP's prospects for expanding its New England ranks are not promising.
Collins' personal brand gives her a heavy advantage for re-election next year. But Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has yet to attract a top GOP challenger for 2014 (although Republicans say they plan to make her race competitive). Meanwhile, GOP House race operatives will be watching Tuesday’s results closely in Massachusetts' 6th District for clues about taking on Democratic Rep. John F. Tierney next year.
But the GOP's hopes are slim compared to the party's standing in this region just 10 years ago. Following the 2002 elections, Republicans controlled nine seats in Congress among the six New England states. That was the cycle when Republican Mitt Romney won his bid for governor.
Despite a Suffolk University poll released Monday that showed Markey ahead by 10 points, Democrats were wary of setting a high bar for a margin of victory or drawing any lasting conclusions about the race. But with a Senate record and more name recognition than he started with in this race, Markey will likely be a more formidable candidate with a larger electorate in November 2014.
The path for any Republican in Massachusetts is a remarkably narrow, steep incline. In 2010, Brown was able to capitalize on a combination of personal likability and the voter unrest surrounding the health care overhaul that was set for a vote in the months following the election. He picked off enough soft Democrats and independents to win by 5 points.
That coalition failed to materialize for Brown in his 2012 race against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, as turnout increased with the coinciding presidential election. Without significant crossover support expected from Democrats in this race, as recent polling has illustrated, Gomez would likely need to eclipse 60 percent among independent voters to win.
A former Navy SEAL, Gomez has worked to separate himself from congressional Republicans, specifically on social issues. While the state's makeup gives the party a heavy advantage, Democrats worked hard to ensure that Gomez could not have that kind of appeal.
“Massachusetts is the bluest of blue states,” said Ryan Williams, a veteran New England GOP operative and former Romney aide. “It’s especially hard for federal candidates because Democrats have been very successful at tying Republican candidates in Massachusetts to the national party — despite the fact that they’re very different.”
Markey and outside Democratic groups outspent Gomez and Republicans at-large by more than 2-to-1 on the airwaves, not counting ground support. A running stream of surrogates and fundraising headliners included President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and former Vice President Al Gore.
In a memo to donors on Monday, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran played up the fact that the Bay State is "one of the most liberal states in the country." He also touted the NRSC's investment of almost $1 million in the race, plus substantial staff and fundraising support.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter said that was not nearly enough to help Gomez win and called it "the lesson for aspiring politicians in the Bay State."
The NRSC's focus now turns to the rest of the country in its quest to win the Senate majority in 2014. Given the Democratic Party's investment to hold Massachusetts, Moran wondered in the memo how much Democrats would have to spend to defend more competitive states such as Louisiana, West Virginia, South Dakota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Montana, Alaska and New Hampshire.
Of course, Republicans will have to spend in those states as well, which makes expending resources in Massachusetts next year all the less likely.