Brand R in trouble in New England

Halfway through October, it’s possible to see an election season’s trends, and in Maine – and New England as a whole – the Republican brand appears to be in trouble.

Congressional races that were supposed to be tight – such as Kevin Raye’s challenge to incumbent five-term Democrat Mike Michaud in the 2nd District – really aren’t, and Republicans also seem to be bracing themselves for the loss of Olympia Snowe’s U.S. Senate seat, one they’ve held since 1994.

In a sense, this is a story that’s been unfolding over the last two decades. It began when Newt Gingrich campaigned for U.S. House speaker on the hard-right platform that has dominated the GOP ever since. Gingrich was speaker for just four years, and the course he set for Republicans has produced dismal returns in New England.

At one time, liberal Republicans were the choice of many New Englanders, and their gradual exclusion from the ballot – even moderates are now suspect – has badly hurt the party’s appeal.

The exodus of Republicans from New England congressional seats began in 1990, when Vermont elected a Democrat to its lone House seat, and it picked up speed with Gingrich’s ascent. Rhode Island hasn’t elected a Republican to the House since 1994, and Maine hasn’t since 1996. Massachusetts has had 10 Democrats in its delegation since 1996, and Connecticut ousted the last Republican from its five-member delegation in 2008.

New Hampshire, the most traditionally Republican of all the New England states, is something of an exception, and in 2010 voters choose two Republicans for the House – an election that also saw Republicans sweep Maine’s elections for governor and the Legislature.

But 2010 is looking more and more like an anomaly, not a trend. The two N.H. House seats could switch to the Democrats again and, if they do, for the first time ever Democrats will hold all of the 22 U.S. House seats in New England.

Republicans have done a bit better in governor’s races and Senate contests, but not much. Eight of the region’s 12 senators are Democrats, or caucus with them, and Republicans stand to lose two more seats this fall – in Maine, where Angus King has led the race throughout, and in Massachusetts, where Elizabeth Warren has pulled ahead of Scott Brown. Brown was chosen in a stunning special election upset in 2010 that’s not likely to be repeated.

Of the six governors, only Paul LePage is a Republican; Rhode Island has Lincoln Chafee, an independent and former Republican who – significantly -- lost his U.S. Senate seat in 2008 primarily because of the R after his name.

A region that, until the 1960s was predominantly Republican, will have become nearly as solidly Democratic as the old Solid South, before the Civil Rights movement.

While the New England-wide trend is welcome if you’re a Democrat, it’s frustrating if you have other leanings, or simply believe that a two-party system can be effective only through competition.

The 2012 campaign is, unfortunately, no exception to the apparent Republican belief that the party can’t go too far right, particularly on its signature issue – the contention that government is always the problem, and the solution to every public issue is to turn it over to the private sector.

This strategy is especially peculiar because, just four years ago, we saw the global financial system collapse because of the excesses of profit-seeking in the private sector. Only the power of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury Department staved off the onset of another Great Depression.

But rather than reassessing their jaundiced view of government, Republicans redoubled their attacks. When President Obama took a Republican-friendly approach to health care reform – boosting for-profit insurers and drug companies rather than turning to a Medicare-for-all approach that every other developed nation uses – he was rewarded with derision and unanimous GOP opposition. Olympia Snowe’s departure from the Senate was officially due to “partisanship,” but it really had more to do with her inability to convince even one of her GOP colleagues to negotiate on a health care bill.

The approach worked in the 2010 election as Republicans exploited the understandable fears that change, and hard times, always create. But it’s not working in 2012, and it’s hard to see how it gains any more votes in future elections. Is it really likely that running against Amtrak, Planned Parenthood and Public Broadcasting is the path to success?

New England politics have usually been moderate, not highly ideological, and focused on results. The near-disappearance of one party from the scene carries a message that so far hasn’t been heard.

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Amedeo Lauria's picture

Thank you....

This column gave me a great laugh...I always enjoy when those on the left continue predict the demise of the Republican Party only to wake up after election day with a dazed look on their faces.

We are the party of self-reliance, responsible spending, America First, and a strong national defense. This in contrast to a party that has presented us in the last four years with 7%+ unemployment, a nonexistant energy policy-doubling of gas prices at the pump and in our heating oil tanks, a foreign policy in shambles, and a blame America first mentality.

The left tries to bolster their support at the polls with endless handouts and the transfer of wealth. Soon there will be no wealth to transfer...perhaps that is their goal!

I know America is waking up I see it in the polls. Join me in voting for conservatives who know that borrowing to keep the lights and heat on on is a fools errand.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on won't be fooling me at all. We are tired of the Bread and Circuses we need jobs for our high school and college graduates; not handouts!

One needs only to look at the empty store fronts on your Main Streets as opposed to the boom times in Washington DC to see what's happening and join me in November; lets vote for REAL change and get this country back on track!

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Who is working for who?????

This is just my own opinion so don't jump on me too hard. I seem to feel that Republicans, although they say their working for 100% of the people, they aren't. You can't put, or try to put in place, policies to prevent voter fraud. Something that has been proven to be, at most, a minor concern to begin with. Voter ID, is the greatest example of Republicans attempts to limit voting in the name of controlling something that doesn't exist. So far the only proven cases of voter fraud, have been perpetrated by the Republican Party. Voter ID may work great on paper, but when you have an employee of your own campaign throwing out ballots that don't agree with Republicans, whats the point?
If they are truly working for 100% of the people, blocking crucial bills or policies, using the "filibuster" to control the direction of progress to accomplish what I feel is a selfish outcome. Basically not allowing anything to be accomplished for the American people, to justify the Republican agenda is wrong.
I just feel that one side shouldn't be allowed to bully their way to winning an election. Who is benefiting from this, or better yet, how many people are losing because of this?
I've said this before, if certain people would put half as much energy into making progress for everyone, as they put into blocking for the very few, we would be so much better off now. They can't keep saying ,"we have the answers", but you have to wait until after the election for details. Mitt Romney has to learn, this is not Bain Capital. In politics there is no such thing as a "Blind Trust"........

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"Basically not allowing

"Basically not allowing anything to be accomplished for the American people, to justify the Republican agenda is wrong."
What if what the democrats are attempting to do for the American people is wrong and the Republicans are trying to right this wrong by keeping it from happening, does that still make the Republicans wrong?
Yeah, I know, the democrats are always right and the republicans are always wrong. I knew you had it all figured out.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Nice try....

Republicans can't possibly be right, as much as they think they are. Everyone else can't be as wrong as Republicans think they are....

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You too..all you did was

You too..all you did was confirm what I said. You try to pass yourself off as being fair minded and balanced, but you really aren't.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Your right...

I used to be fair minded and balanced, now I've changed my mind. Its not like that's never happened before........

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Changing one's mind is much

Changing one's mind is much better than losing it. I used to think losing it was o.k. but then I changed my mind.


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