GOP, Democrats both hoping to pick up state seats in fall election
BOSTON >> It looks like Republican Gov. Charlie Baker will again be dealing with a state Legislature dominated by Democrats during the second half of his term — much like his first two years in office.
Baker has said he won't vote for presumed GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, but instead plans to focus on a handful of state ballot questions and legislative races in November, in part to help bulk up the number of fellow Republicans on Beacon Hill.
But there simply aren't enough Republicans on the ballot to break the Democrats' lock on either the Massachusetts House or Senate, according to a tally of candidates who filed nomination papers for the Sept. 8 primary ballot.
There are 40 seats in the Senate, but 24 of them have no Republican candidates on the ballot, virtually assuring the chamber remains in Democratic hands. In another eight races, Democratic incumbents are facing GOP challengers. There are also several races with no incumbent running for re-election.
In the House, the outlook isn't any more promising for the GOP.
The House has 160 seats, but there are no Republican candidates in 110 of the contests, guaranteeing Democrats will retain control of that chamber, too.
But that doesn't mean Republicans are planning to sit out the election.
While the state GOP is quick to point out that elections that feature presidential contests are typically tough for their legislative candidates — they lost some Republican incumbents in 2012 — they still see some opportunities to pick up seats.
In particular, the party is targeting races in more conservative pockets of the state, including Cape Cod, the South Shore and parts of Worcester County and western Massachusetts.
But the party's top goal is to hold on to the seats they already have, including the 14 new Republicans who have taken office since 2014. Currently, the Senate has six Republicans and the House has 34.
They're also hoping that Baker's popularity in Massachusetts will translate into votes for Republican legislative candidates.
"Thanks to Gov. Baker's leadership, Massachusetts Republicans are in a position to field strong, competitive candidates in key districts across the commonwealth, and we're going to work to grow the GOP team on Beacon Hill this fall," MassGOP Chairman Kirsten Hughes said in a statement.
Democrats are hoping another Republican — one whose name will be near the top of the November ballot — could make it possible to protect their overwhelming majorities in both chambers — and possible to expand their reach at the Statehouse.
"In a year where Republicans down the ballot must be held accountable for the actions of their standard bearer — Donald Trump — we anticipate defeating incumbent Republicans and picking up open seats," Massachusetts Democratic Party Executive Director Matt Fenlon said in an email.
While focusing on a handful of seats and protecting incumbents may seem cautious, Republicans remember the high profile effort by former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney to increase the number of GOP state lawmakers midway through his first and only term.
Romney recruited 130 GOP candidates for the House and Senate during the 2004 elections. All lost, and the party saw its overall numbers in the Legislature fall.
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