Opportunities Are Few and Very Far Between

Posted March 3, 2008 at 6:29pm

If you’re here for the party, it’s best to wear blue. Because in one of the most Democratic states in the country, voters have not sent a Republican to Congress in more than a decade.

[IMGCAP(1)]And when one party holds 10 Congressional seats, the governor’s office and both Senate seats, it’s hard for any up-and-coming politicians to plot their ascendancy to Congress.

“Part of the problem here is that Democrats control everything, so upward mobility is difficult because of that,” said former state Democratic Chairman Philip Johnston. “I can’t think of anyone in the Congress who is planning to go anywhere anytime soon.”

Johnston speculated that the one incumbent who might be wary of Washington, D.C., is nine-term Rep. John Olver (D), but even that is an unlikely retirement given that Democrats are now back in the majority. One of the likely successors for Olver could be state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D).

“Stan would be an interesting guy because he’s out in Amherst,” said one Bay State Democratic operative. “And the most rumored person to be getting tired of being in Washington is John Olver.”

The Democratic operative also named young state Sen. Ben Downing (D) as someone who also might be interested in Olver’s seat someday, whenever he decides to step down.

Also on the Democratic Congressional short list is former state Sen. Jarrett Barrios (D), who represented Cambridge in the Legislature and could be a candidate to run whenever Rep. Mike Capuano (D) retires. One of the first Latino members of the state Senate, Barrios left the Legislature in the summer of 2007 to run the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation.

Current state Attorney General Martha Coakley is considered likely to run for governor at some point, along with her fellow statewide Democrats, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and state Treasurer Tim Cahill.

Gov. Deval Patrick (D), however, isn’t even halfway through his first term, so his job isn’t likely to come vacant any time soon.

Outside of Beacon Hill, Democrats also look to Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone as a rising star. Because it is one of the largest and most diverse counties in the state, the Middlesex post — which Coakley once held — often has been used as a jumping board for statewide office. Middlesex County is primarily in the 5th district, which is held by freshman Rep. Niki Tsongas (D).

Former state Rep. James Eldridge (D), who ran a promising primary campaign in the 5th district special election last year, might also run again for Congress some day. Eldridge has so far cleared his primary field to run for an open state Senate district this cycle.

Over the past 16 years, there here has been a 90 percent turnover rate in the state Legislature, which has 24 Republicans out of 200 total Members in both the House and the Senate, according to figures from the state party.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to move up in a state where all but two of the Members have been in Congress less than 10 years.

In some states, that bottleneck dynamic might lead to primary challenges in race after race, but Democratic Members rarely if ever have serious primary challenges.

“I don’t remember the last time a Democratic Congressman was challenged in the primary in Massachusetts,” Democratic state Party Chairman John Walsh said. “Massachusetts’ Congressional delegation are beloved in their districts … they just work it so hard.”

But for Republicans, Democrats unwilling to run against each other leaves the electoral door wide open to future bids, should the political leanings of the state change direction. Most recently, retired army pilot Jim Ogonowski (R) held Tsongas to a 6-point margin of victory in their October 2007 special election in the 5th district.

According to local political observers, the 5th district is the most Republican district in the state. The 3rd and 6th districts, represented by Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern and John Tierney, respectively, were the two districts won most recently by Republicans in 1994 and therefore could be potential GOP targets.

Rep. Bill Delahunt’s (D) district might be fourth on the list of all 10 seats to carry a potential bull’s-eye for Republicans.

Nonetheless, Republicans are farming their candidates for potential candidates in the cycles to come. Ogonowski and 2006 GOP nominee Jeff Beatty from the 10th district have both announced campaigns to run against Sen. John Kerry (D) this cycle.

But what might be more promising for state Republicans is that the GOP has a track record of holding the governor’s mansion from 1991 until 2006. In fact, the man who came closest to defeating Kerry was former Gov. William Weld (R) in 1996.

Republicans are keeping their eyes on state Rep. Paul Loscocco, elected in 2000, and state Sen. Scott Brown, both from the western Boston metropolitan area.

“I think they’d both be very competitive for Congress,” said one Massachusetts Republican operative.

In the 6th district, Republicans also are looking at Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins and former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, who lost her 2006 gubernatorial bid.

“There has been some talk about whether she would be interested in running for congress, but so far it’s just been talk,” said the GOP operative.

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO Charlie Baker is apparently meeting with Republicans across the state. However, according to one Republican observer, Baker is most likely looking at something statewide, such as a 2010 gubernatorial bid.