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The Senate 2014: State of the Races, Part 7

Opening caveat: In response to some comments along the way in this series regarding Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, there are several GOP possibilities to take him on in a primary. I singled out Lee Bright because he has been the most vocal and the prototypical type to challenge Graham from the right. I must also agree that Jamie Radtke is a potential GOP candidate, but against Warner it would be political suicide. And finally, Cuccinelli, if he loses a close gubernatorial race is by no means toast- makes it tougher, but he is not done.

Moving on to the races in the Northeast, mainly New England, there are four- three held by Democrats and one by a Republican. They are: Susan Collins in Maine, Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, Jack Reed in North Carolina and someone in Massachusetts.

First up, the easy one: Rhode Island. Reed last won election with 73% of the vote which indicates just how difficult it is for any true Republican to break through in this state. In 2012, they reelected the uber-liberal Sheldon Whitehouse, perhaps one of the most despicable Liberal Senators in the fold (Sherrod Brown, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Mikulski and Al Franken rank up there too). Brendan Doherty, who has declined a bid in 2014, did the best he could in a congressional seat race in 2012 against an ethically challenged opponent and still got clobbered. The fact is that for anyone wearing the Republican moniker to have a chance of electoral success in this state, they have to be liberal in the mold of a Nelson Rockefeller. Instead, it would be a waste of time and money. Just concede the race and move on, or just run the most incendiary conservative you can find and try to ding Reed’s veneer and have some fun in the meantime.

In New Hampshire, incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen defeated John Sununu with only 53% of the vote. The political fortunes of anyone- Republican or Democrat- are somewhat fickle in New Hampshire so although most pundits place this seat safely- but not comfortably- in the Democratic column, anything is potentially possible here. The original conjecture was that John Sununu would seek a rematch against Shaheen, which seems to be a New Hampshire tradition in national races. However, he has since declined a run. Still, for such a small state, there are options. Both Republican ex-Representatives Charlie Bass and Sam Guinta are two of them. Of the two, Guinta has openly mulled over the idea and is still open as to his options. One interesting name that keeps cropping up is former congressman and current majority leader in the state senate, Jeb Bradley. During his tenure in office in DC, he showed some independence from GOP orthodoxy which may resonate with New Hampshire voters. The problem in 2014 is that both House seats and the Governor’s office are up for grabs. In a small state with so many names on the GOP side, it all has to be sorted out. New Hampshire GOP operatives think Shaheen in beatable, but it will be difficult. With four high-profile races in 2014, any potential candidate will have to weigh their options. Bradley, who is not as conservative as most would like, may be the most winnable candidate statewide. His stances on embryonic stem cell research and his involvement with Republican pro-choice groups is problematic with conservatives, to say the least.

One would be remiss in their duties if they did not mention the potential candidacy of former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. At a recent dinner in Nashua as the keynote speaker, he sounded as if he was seriously thinking about it, citing his New Hampshire roots. I think Scott Brown needs to be put in perspective as to too many he represents the great Northeastern hope for the Republican Party. His special election victory against Martha Coakley in 2010 certainly was an upset and the political shot heard around the world. However, to this writer, it was simply the exclamation point on recent Democratic setbacks in response to an over-reaching federal government and Obama, especially as it concerned Obamacare. The first two shots were the gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey. The fact is that much of Brown’s success in Massachusetts was attributable to his “newness” and to the fact that Coakley ran an absolutely abysmal campaign. She took for granted that it is Massachusetts, it “was Ted Kennedy’s seat”, and therefore she was entitled and the people knew it and would vote that way. Case in point: while she was away somewhere consulting the most recent polls, Brown was outside Fenway Park shaking hands. That picture said it all. But, Scott Brown is not new any more and he did not hold his seat against Warren, perhaps more arrogant and liberal than Coakley. It may be time to bury the Brown banners and realize that he had his 15 minutes (really two years) of fame and cease mentioning his name every time a New England senatorial seat comes up for election.

In Maine, incumbent Republican Susan Collins, the bane of many a commentator here and on other websites, is up for reelection. There is/was talk of a Tea Party challenge against her in the primary and there may still be with only Bruce Poliquin, a two-time electoral loser mentioned as a potential challenger. The former state treasurer lost a gubernatorial bid in 2010 and a senatorial run in 2012. If you read any liberal website, they describe Collins as a conservative hiding behind a veil of moderation. If you read any conservative outlet, they describe her as a liberal hiding behind the veil of moderation, or a RINO. But there is no mistaking the fact that she enjoys a huge 65% job approval rating among Maine voters. That is why most Democrats more or less concede that she will not even break a sweat on her way to reelection. In fact, no one is stepping forward to challenge her not only in the primary, but in the general election. One guesses that some unknown long shot will have their name on the ballot. However, the bigger picture is that Collins will be reelected easily, a fact that Republicans- conservative and not so conservative- will have to deal with for another six years.

Finally, there is the race in Massachusetts to fulfill the term of John Kerry. A special election will be held later this month between long time liberal congressman Ed Markey and GOP challenger Gabriel Gomez. Thus far, most polls show Markey winning by a comfortable margin with less than a month to go. Gomez surprised everyone with his primary victory in what can generally be described as a rather weak field. In early March, Markey held a 19 point lead in the polls. Today that lead stands at 12 points. Still, in only two polls, has Markey broken that 50% ceiling. This should give the GOP in Massachusetts some pause for hope although it is still too early to proclaim Gomez the next Scott Brown. The Massachusetts Democratic Party will never be caught with their pants down like they did in 2010 with Brown which is why Markey has been particularly aggressive in his campaigning and advertisements thus far, in some cases going over the line to define a political neophyte. The GOP may claim a symbolic victory if they can get 40% of the vote which would indicate that Markey is not the icon in the state that he reckons himself to be.

The Democratic primary was rather prickly between Markey and Stephen Lynch, another congressman. If Markey does not perform as well as expected in the June 25th election- that is, if Gomez can hit 40%- then this may create a wider primary field in 2014 with Lynch and perhaps other congressmen. Some names mentioned are Jim McGovern, Niki Tsongas, and Mike Capuano. If its Massachusetts, there has to be a Kennedy lurking somewhere and sure enough Edward Kennedy, Jt.’s name was suggested at one point this time around, as was his widow, Mary Jo Kopechne (er…I mean, Victoria Reggie Kennedy… sorry, couldn’t resist). Governor Patrick Deval may also consider a run in 2014 as his political future is unknown although one suspects a job in the administration somewhere along the line. Whatever for the Democrats, the bench is deep in a deeply blue state.

Should Gomez lose, he can always try again in 2014 and have some experience under his belt and a Markey senatorial record to attack. God knows, there are enough of his votes in the House to attack as it is. For a blue state, there are some interesting Republican names out there starting with Sean Bielat who challenged the iconic Barney Frank in 2010 and although he lost, he polled surprisingly well which probably was a factor in Frank’s retirement in 2012. Unfortunately, Bielat was running against one of those damn Kennedys for Frank’s seat and lost again. But, he is known having taken on two rather huge figures in Massachusetts politics.

Massachusetts GOP leaders started talking up 2010 gubernatorial loser Charlie Baker almost before the ink was dry on that election as a possible candidate against John Kerry in 2014. Of course, things changed when Kerry moved onto the State Department. This would be a interesting choice as the gubernatorial campaign was bruising and Baker lost by only 6 points to Deval Patrick. There is also Richard Tisei, an openly gay Republican who has received 100% ratings from NARAL and Planned Prenthood as a possibility. That would certainly take a couple of issues off the table and perhaps they can focus on fiscal issues. Former governor William Weld is rumored to be interested especially since he recently moved back to the state. And finally there is state representative Daniel Winslow who lost to Gomez in the 2013 GOP primary, but whose name keeps popping up. And let us not forget the ubiquitous Scott Brown, assuming he doesn’t carpetbag and run in neighboring New Hampshire.

Most likely, Baker will seek this seat against the damaged Markey and his chances are increased assuming (1) the GOP field is thin and (2) Markey faces a primary challenge in 2014 from a fellow congressman again.

Next: Conclusion and summary.

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