Sans Shays, GOP Is Hibernating in Northeast

Posted November 5, 2008 at 6:48pm

Correction Appended

New England voters on Tuesday continued their trend of knocking off Republican lawmakers, as they ousted a GOP Senator and a well-known House Republican moderate, while re-electing a pair of Democratic freshmen.

The New Hampshire Senate race was the region’s marquee campaign, featuring incumbent Sen. John Sununu (R) and former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), whom he beat by 4 points in 2002.

In the 2002 race, Sununu fought past Sen. Bob Smith in the primary while Shaheen, who was unopposed in her primary, withstood attacks on her record as governor from national Republicans. This time Sununu and Shaheen were unopposed in their primaries, and national Democrats threw their weight behind Shaheen early. Among her biggest contributors were the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, EMILY’s List, the Service Employees International Union, the American Association for Justice and the American Federation of Teachers.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the anti-tax Club for Growth lined up behind Sununu.

Though polls tightened at the end, the former governor ended up winning all but three of the Granite State’s 10 counties.

In the state’s other high-profile rematch, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) won against former Rep. Jeb Bradley (R), who she narrowly defeated in 2006 with only limited support from national Democrats. This time the Democratic establishment rallied to Shea-Porter’s cause. She was named to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline” program and received support from EMILY’s List and several major unions.

The other New Hampshire Member, freshman Paul Hodes (D), had a less- stressful campaign season. Instead of a rematch against his 2006 foe, former Rep. Charles Bass (R), he squared off against talk radio host Jennifer Horn, who won a four-way primary in September. Horn, who was often compared to GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin because she emphasized her experience as a mother of five children, couldn’t catch up to Hodes’ fundraising but implied that she will be back.

“This is not the end of anything. This may just be the first step, but it is a giant step and it is a step forward,” she said after her loss, according to the Associated Press. “Mr. Hodes ran a good campaign, and I congratulate him. But I have to tell him, he’s gotta watch out, going to have to keep his eyes open, because we’re paying attention. We’re watching.”

In Maine, one Republican did get a reprieve, defying the state’s preference for President-elect Obama at the top of the ticket. Moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins prevailed over Rep. Tom Allen (D) in a race that saw heavy investments from the DSCC, making it the most expensive campaign in the state’s history. Collins succeeded in portraying herself as independent from the Bush administration and in reminding voters of her history of constituent service.

Chellie Pingree, who lost to Collins in the 2002 Senate race, made a comeback in the race to replace Allen. Pingree, the former state Senate Majority Leader and former president of Common Cause, beat five Democrats in the June primary. In the general election, she faced former state Sen. Charlie Summers, who lost to Allen by 20 points in 2004. Summers worked out of a deficit throughout the campaign, having missed much of the primary season while serving with the Navy in Iraq and having been vastly outspent.

New England’s only remaining Republican House Member, Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays, was defeated in his bid for an 11th full term. Former investment banker Jim Himes will represent the 4th district.

“I have always known that you can have great elections when you win and great elections when you lose,” Shays told supporters after his concession, according to New England Cable News.

Shays is a veteran of close campaigns, having defeated Democrat Diane Farrell by just 3 points in 2006 and 4 points in 2004 in a district that supported Vice President Al Gore (D) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for president. Connecticut’s four other Representatives were re-elected; neither Senator faced the voters.

The Massachusetts delegation is notoriously entrenched, and this year produced no surprises. Kerry was easily re-elected against security adviser Jeff Beatty, and only four of the state’s 10 Representatives had any opposition at all. The newest delegation member, Rep. Niki Tsongas (D), who received 51 percent of the vote in an October 2007 special election to replace retiring Rep. Marty Meehan (D), attracted no opposition.

Rhode Island voters in 2006 ousted Sen. Lincoln Chafee, the last Republican in the delegation, but saw no competitive races this cycle. Sen. Jack Reed and Reps. Patrick Kennedy and James Langevin were all re-elected.

In Vermont, neither Senator faced re- election this week. Freshman Rep. Peter Welch drew no opposition, so he ran on both the Democratic and Republican lines.

Correction: Nov. 7, 2008

The article incorrectly stated that the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent money on the Maine Senate election.