The election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate seat long held by Democratic icon Edward Kennedy was at the time thought to herald a transformation in Massachusetts politics. Four years later it looks like a fluke. With the 2014 election season warming up, the state’s Republican Party has two opportunities -- a wide open race for governor and what will be the fourth U.S. Senate election in just under five years -- to forge a comeback.
Mr. Brown, the erstwhile face of the Republican renaissance, is seeking greener pastures in New Hampshire, where he is thought to be an almost certain bet to take on incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen. According to a story in Wednesday’s Boston Globe, Mr. Brown’s departure has dismayed Massachusetts Republicans. It shouldn’t. Mr. Brown’s weaknesses were thoroughly exposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren in the one-sided 2012 campaign. He needs a fresh start elsewhere and the state GOP needs fresh faces -- if it can find them.
Charles Baker, who was defeated by Governor Deval Patrick four years ago and is running for governor again, is not a fresh face but is running on the premise that he did not show his true face in 2010. Attempting to latch onto the tea party wave that never caused a ripple in Massachusetts, Mr. Baker adopted an angry persona that he now acknowledges never fit him. He is running this time as the moderate, good-natured policy wonk people remember fondly from his days in the Weld and Cellucci administrations.
Mr. Baker faces a challenge for the Republican nomination in tea partier Mark B. Fisher, a Shrewsbury businessman, and while Mr. Baker should dispatch him easily, he must be careful in how he does so. If he adopts extremist positions on gay marriage or immigration, for example, to undermine his opponent among far-right voters, Mr. Baker will be handing his Democratic opponent weapons to pound him with in the general election, as did Scott Brown in the 2012 race.
Democratic Senator Edward Markey, elected in a special election last year to fill the seat vacated by John Kerry when he became secretary of state, has been thoroughly eclipsed by Ms. Warren, an aggressive consumer advocate and foe of Wall Street who has quickly emerged as a major Democratic star. He would seem to be vulnerable this November as he seeks a full term but Gabriel Gomez, who exceeded expectations in his race against Mr. Markey last year, has announced he won’t run again this year and Hopkinton Selectman Brian Herr is so far the only Republican candidate. The GOP may be missing its last good opportunity in many years to claim a U.S. Senate seat.
With Attorney General Martha Coakley running for governor, that important post will be wide open, but Republicans still haven’t found a candidate. Mary Connaughton, who ran an excellent campaign for treasurer in the last state race, is now director of Finance and Administration for the Pioneer Institute and is not pursuing a state office. Karyn Polito, who waged a competitive race for treasurer in 2010, is running for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Mr. Baker. The state GOP’s shallow bench is being exposed this year.
Seeking office in a Democratic state where independent candidates tend to lean Democratic is understandably frustrating for Republicans. Scott Brown managed to find a path to victory, however, and the absence of the charismatic Governor Deval Patrick on the ballot is undeniably good news for the GOP. There are winnable battles for Massachusetts Republicans in 2014, but should they fail, the party could find itself stuck in the political wilderness for a long time to come.