New England: GOP Has Something to Prove in the Northeast

Connecticut


Filing deadline: May 25 | Primary: Aug. 10

Senate

Open seat: Chris Dodd (D) is retiring
Outlook: Likely Democratic

It’s an understatement to say that Dodd’s decision to retire turned this race on its head. Following Dodd’s announcement, Democrats immediately anointed longtime state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal as their nominee and public polling showed the party’s prospects for holding the seat were vastly improved.

Blumenthal has sky-high approval ratings in the Nutmeg State, although he took some heat recently when the New York Times reported that this campaign was faltering out of the gate. Blumenthal has never had a serious challenge for re-election, so it’s easy to believe that he could have trouble with a tough race.

Republicans realize their chances of taking this seat decreased dramatically with Dodd out, but none of the GOP candidates are giving up yet. National Republicans still see a chance for victory — albeit a small one — if former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon wins the nomination. McMahon has significant personal wealth and has indicated to party leaders that she would put up to $50 million into the race.

Much will be decided at the state Republican convention on May 21, when local activists will nominate either McMahon, former Rep. Rob Simmons or businessman Peter Schiff. If none of the Republicans reach the threshold of delegate support to win the GOP nomination, then all three of them could end up on the ballot in August. That would not be a good thing for the local GOP given that McMahon and Simmons have already gone negative on each other.

There’s a chance that Republicans could win this seat, but two things need to happen first: A Republican, likely McMahon, must clear the field — or at least win the nomination before the August primary — and Blumenthal must continue to falter. Otherwise, Democrats will be welcoming Blumenthal to the Senate.

House

4th district
Incumbent: Jim Himes (D)
1st term (51 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

This is one of the most expensive districts in the country given its proximity to the New York City media market. Unfortunately for Republicans, it’s also the party’s best shot to win back a seat in Connecticut. Rep. Jim Himes (D) defeated then-Rep. Christopher Shays (R) in 2008 with 51 percent of the vote, even though President Barack Obama carried the district with 60 percent.

However, the GOP has a very crowded primary. Just like in the Senate race, Republicans might begin to sort this out after their state convention this weekend — although it’s unlikely given how many candidates are in the race.

State Sen. Dan Debicella is expected to get the nomination at the convention, but several other GOP candidates have the funds to get their names on the primary ballot even if they do not reach the threshold of delegate support.

Easton First Selectman Tom Herrmann is likely to be one of those candidates who tries to push past the convention, and he might mount a write-in campaign to get on the ballot if necessary.

Former McCain staffer Will Gregory and businessmen Rob Merkle and Rick Torres might have a support from activist groups in the district, but they are unlikely to win the nomination this weekend.

If Republicans have a nominee with overwhelming delegate support after this weekend, their chances of defeating Himes this fall will improve greatly. The chances of that happening, however, are slim.

Maine


Filing deadline: Passed | Primary: June 8

House

2nd district
Incumbent: Mike Michaud (D)
4th term (67 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Michaud likely has the stiffest challenge he’s had in a long time, but that’s not saying a lot. He won with 71 percent and 67 percent in 2006 and 2008, respectively.

Businessman Jason Levesque (R) has filed to run against Michaud, but he reported having less than $20,000 at the end of March — a paltry sum compared with the Congressman’s $575,000.

Out of Maine’s two House districts, this is the better opportunity for Republicans. However, Michaud is the odds-on favorite to win in November.

Massachusetts


Filing deadline: June 1 | Primary: Sept. 14

House

10th district
Open seat: Bill Delahunt (D)
is retiring
Outlook: Leans Democratic

By the time Delahunt announced his retirement in early March, it was hardly a surprise, since he’d been telegraphing it for weeks.

Both parties face competitive September primaries to decide their nominees, which could be problematic if one or both of the contests get particularly nasty.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Robert O’Leary, chairman of the Joint Committee on Education, faces Norfolk District Attorney William Keating.

Joseph Kennedy III (D), the son of the former Congressman by the same name, considered running but declined.

The Republican race is between state Rep. Jeff Perry and former state Treasurer Joe Malone. Even at this early stage, the contest features an endorsement war headlined by some big-name establishment supporters.

Perry, who has been aggressive in courting tea party support, has the endorsement of Sen. Scott Brown as well as former Gov. Mitt Romney. Malone has ex-Gov. Bill Weld as well as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in his corner.

Brown’s win in the January special election has national and Bay State Republicans confident that they can be competitive in this district, which stretches from the South Shore of Boston to Cape Cod. Brown won 60 percent of the vote here in January, besting the 55 percent that President Barack Obama won in 2008.

While Democrats are favored, this race will no doubt be worth watching after the nominees are picked. Republicans are eager to prove they can win again in the Northeast, and this could become one of the top targets before November. The GOP’s big problem is the 10th is covered by the Boston media market, and the party may not have the money to close the deal.

New Hampshire


Filing deadline: June 11 | Primary: Sept. 14

Senate

Open seat: Judd Gregg (R) is retiring
Outlook: Tossup

Democrats’ chances of taking this seat from Republicans will be influenced heavily by who wins the primary and just how tarnished his or her image is after the nomination fight. Rep. Paul Hodes, the likely Democratic nominee, will continue to sock away cash while the GOP fight continues into September given that he has no competitive primary.

The GOP field is nothing if not varied. Senate Republicans recruited former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte to run last summer, but a few candidates have announced campaigns since then — much to the chagrin of the national GOP. Ayotte, meanwhile, has been forced to distance herself from national party leaders because their tacit endorsement has backfired with GOP activists in the Granite State.

Public polls show that Ayotte is still in the best position to defeat Hodes, but that could change over the course of the next four months. Ayotte’s biggest competition is businessman Bill Binnie, who is rumored to be willing to put up to $10 million in personal money into the race. Binnie has raised his own name identification significantly already by spending a lot on TV ads, but he’s far from securing the nomination.

Attorney Ovide Lamontagne, who ran as his party’s nominee in the 1996 gubernatorial race, is also running. Despite having the support of a few high-profile New Hampshire and national political activists, Lamontagne’s campaign stuttered with his fundraising: He had only $227,000 in the bank at the end of March.

If Hodes had a primary, Democrats’ chances of taking this seat would be severely blunted. And even with a GOP brawl, Republicans still have a good chance of holding on to it if the national mood continues to be in the favor of their party.

House

1st district
Incumbent: Carol Shea-Porter (D)
2nd term (52 percent)
Outlook: Tossup

Even though this district voted for President Barack Obama with 53 percent in 2008, local activists note that it is traditionally a GOP-leaning district.

Shea-Porter benefited last cycle from a particularly negative and late GOP primary. The eventual nominee, former Rep. Jeb Bradley (R), could not recover in time to wage an effective campaign against Shea-Porter. In a year that is expected to be good for Republicans across the country, Shea-Porter could be in serious trouble except that the GOP primary is even more crowded and expensive than last cycle.

National Republicans recruited Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta early in the cycle. And even though his campaign has stumbled and sometimes reported lackluster fundraising, some of the national party apparatus appears to be sticking with him for the time being — or at least cutting checks to his campaign. Guinta also cut a six-figure personal check to boost his coffers last quarter.

But at least a couple other Republicans with significant personal funds are also in the race: Defense contractor Rich Ashooh and former Republican National Committeeman Sean Mahoney. Banking executive Bob Bestani is also running, although local observers do not view his campaign as competitive compared with that of Mahoney or Ashooh.

If all of the Republicans in the primary play nice until the September contest, then the party increases its shot of taking this seat. But there is no doubt that an intraparty battle could ruin the GOP’s chances of winning here, even if Shea-Porter’s voting record is — as the national GOP says — “out of touch” with her constituents.

2nd district
Open seat: Paul Hodes (D) is running for Senate
Outlook: Tossup

Republicans could not ask for a better candidate to run for this seat than former Rep. Charles Bass, who was defeated by Hodes in 2006. Bass has the track record and moderate profile to win; however, he must first make it through a primary with 2008 GOP nominee Jennifer Horn. The more effective Horn is at pushing Bass to the right, the less of a chance he has of winning the general election.

Democrats, however, also have a primary. Attorney Ann McLane Kuster has been running a strong campaign since last summer, including fundraising at a torrid pace and getting the endorsement of EMILY’s List. Kuster announced she had $563,000 in the bank at the end of March.

Business consultant Katrina Swett, the 2002 Democratic nominee in the district and wife of former Rep. Dick Swett (D), who was ousted by Bass in 1994, announced in January that she would run again for the seat.

Swett is also well-funded. She reported having more than $1 million at the end of March — although the vast majority of that was transferred over from a previous bid for Senate. Although this district leans Democratic, Republicans have a good shot at capturing it — especially if Bass wins his primary handily and Democrats have a bloody battle in September.

Rhode Island


Filing deadline: June 30 | Primary: Sept. 14

House

1st district
Open seat: Patrick Kennedy (D) is retiring
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Although Kennedy’s retirement was a shock to many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill, there was apparently no shortage of candidates who had been eyeing his seat.

Three well-known Democrats are already in the race. Providence Mayor David Cicilline, who is openly gay, started off his campaign with a bang by raising more than $700,000 in the first quarter; however, local reports said most of those funds were indirectly funneled from his mayoral re-election campaign. Former state party chairman Bill Lynch, the brother of state Attorney General Patrick Lynch (who is running for governor), also raised a respectable $230,000 in the first quarter, including a $100,000 loan from himself. State Rep. David Segal entered the race just last week, and he is considered the most progressive of the bunch.

Republicans like to compare this race to the Massachusetts Senate special election, given that this seat is held by a Kennedy and the Republican in the race, state Rep. John Loughlin, has hired Sen. Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) consulting team. But it’s unlikely there will be as much national attention focused on this race as there was on the race for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) seat.

In fact, Republicans’ best hope of winning is for a bloody Democratic primary to unfold — a possibility given how well-funded the candidates will be. With a mid-September primary, the future nominee could emerge damaged with less than two months before the general election.

Vermont


Filing deadline: June 17 | Primary: Aug. 24

Senate

Incumbent: Patrick Leahy (D)
6th term (71 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

They don’t come any safer than Leahy. Despite having tough elections to his first three terms in the Senate, he’s increased his winning margin in each election since. He won re-election in 2004 with 71 percent, and he’ll likely improve on that this fall, when he faces lumber store owner Len Britton in a race national Republicans are not targeting.

House

At-Large
Incumbent: Peter Welch (D)
2nd term (83 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Re-election this cycle might not be as easy for Welch as it was in 2008, but that’s not saying much. He was nominated by both Democrats and Republicans last cycle and won a landslide victory in this overwhelmingly Democratic state.

Although we won’t know until August whether Welch will be as lucky this cycle, it appears at least one Republican has filed to run: businessman Keith Stern. However, there is little doubt that Welch will prevail as the Democratic nominee and in the general election in November.