Republicans suffered humbling defeats across the board in 2006 and 2008, but nowhere has the party brand taken a harsher beating in recent years than in the Northeast.
A Republican stronghold for generations, the region has become increasingly hostile territory for the GOP. The party would like nothing more than to reverse this worrisome trend, and this year presents a golden opportunity to do just that. With the national wind at their backs, Republicans have a realistic shot at capturing a handful of House seats in the Northeast, which could dramatically improve their odds of taking back Congress.
To be sure, the extent of the GOP’s recent travails in the Northeast is pretty staggering. With the defeat of Connecticut’s lone Republican Christopher Shays in 2008, Democrats now control all 22 House seats in the six-state New England region. In New York, only two of the state’s 29 seats belong to Republicans. Add in Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey, and the GOP holds just nine of 73 seats. Throw in Pennsylvania, and it becomes just 16 of 92. It’s numbers like these that had many on the left making smug declarations like — as an April 2009 Daily Kos headline put it — “The Northeast Republican [is] nearly extinct.”
Then Scott Brown happened. His stunning upset over Martha Coakley in January was a much-needed jolt of confidence for northeastern Republicans and a boon for candidate recruitment in the region. Indeed, a number of GOP candidates are seeking to model themselves after the junior senator from Massachusetts. And the political climate has only improved for the GOP since Brown’s big win. The closer it gets to Election Day, the better it seems to get for the party’s candidates across the country, and the Northeast is no exception.
Isaac Wood, House-race editor for Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball newsletter, said with Republicans poised to inflict “some pretty extreme losses” on Democrats this cycle, plenty of opportunities exist even in Democrat strongholds like the Northeast. “Republicans definitely have the wind at their back. They’ve fielded enough candidates to be competitive. They’ll be able to win in places where they might not have in a typical year,” Wood said.
Tory Mazzola, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, also attributed the party’s chances to the number of quality candidates the GOP recruited this year. “The Democratic stronghold is starting to crack,” he said.
NBC First Read’s “Field of 64” — a list of the 64 seats most likely to change hands in November — includes eight seats in the Northeast (excluding Pennsylvania). Of those eight, pollster Nate Silver gives six of them — Maryland’s 1st, New Hampshire’s 1st and 2nd, and New York’s 19th, 24th, and 29th — a better than 50 percent chance of flipping in the GOP’s favor. (It’s worth noting that of those 64 seats, 58 are Democratic-held).
Control of the House may rest on outcomes in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. “Republicans are probably going to need at least five or six [Northeastern seats] to win the House; anything on top of that is gravy,” Wood said. “Six seems realistic, but it could be as many as 12 depending on how things turn out.”
One Republican strategist said there could be as many as 25 seats in play in the region if the national mood continues its anti-incumbent, anti-Democratic trajectory.
In New York alone, pollsters and strategists see at least seven Democratic House seats up for grabs this year. One of those, the 29th district, held until a few months ago by Rep. Eric “Tickle-Me” Massa, is already being written off as a sure Republican pick up.
In the 20th district, retired Army colonel and Iraq veteran Chris Gibson, another “young gun,” is giving incumbent Rep. Scott Murphy (D) a run for his money — literally. The NRCC has already committed upwards of about $700,000 in advertising purchases. “This is a seat we should be winning, and we think we’ve got the momentum to do it,” one GOP strategist said.
In New Hampshire, maybe the reddest of New England states, the GOP looks set to win back the two House seats it lost in the Democratic tide of 2006. Republicans have a pair of solid candidates in Frank Guinta and former Rep. Charlie Bass. Both have achieved “young gun” status with the NRCC, and have modeled their campaigns on Scott Brown’s winning message of jobs, the economy, and opposition to Obamacare — what Republican strategists are calling their “formula for success” across the Northeast.
One of the NRCC’s newest “young guns” is Massachusetts state lawmaker Jeff Perry. He is running in the 10th congressional district, which includes Cape Cod and the famed Kennedy estate, and where Scott Brown won 60 percent of the vote. Perry has received big-name endorsements from Mitt Romney and Scott Brown, and faces Democrat Bill Keating in the race to succeed seven-term incumbent Rep. Bill Delahunt (D). “This race is going be a fight,” Mazzola, the NRCC spokesman, said. “It will definitely be a sign, that if this seat is competitive in Massachusetts, we’re in a very good position across the country.”
Even Rep. Barney Frank’s seat is on the GOP’s radar this cycle. Scott Brown won Frank’s district in the special election, and Republican challenger Sean Bielat has run a surprisingly strong campaign thus far.
Rhode Island’s 1st district features another promising Republican, John Loughlin, a state lawmaker and National Guard member. Like the others, he has the backing of Romney and is working with Brown’s political team. Cook Political Report says Loughlin is in a “legitimate race” with Providence mayor David Cicilline to succeed outgoing Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D). Cook recently downgraded the race — for the second time in five months — from “Likely Democratic” to “Lean Democratic.”
In Pennsylvania, nearly all of the House races are competitive this year, meaning ample opportunity for the GOP. The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog rates six of Pennsylvania’s Democrat-held House seats with a better than 50 percent chance of moving to the Republican side. The GOP needs only three pick-ups in the Keystone state to claim a majority of its 19-member delegation, but it’s as possible that 10 seats could switch party control.
GOP strategists agree that winning over independent voters is key to electoral success in November. This is especially true in the Northeast, where the GOP does not enjoy the registration advantage. Across America, Pew found that 49 percent of likely independent voters said they will support a Republican candidate, compared with 36 percent who said they are likely to vote for a Democrat. Interestingly, more Northeast independents are breaking for Republicans than their counterparts in the Midwest or the West.
“Voters across the Northeast are generally fiscally conservative,” Mazzola said. “The Pelosi/Obama agenda of big spending, higher taxes, and big government just isn’t resonating.”
The Northeast remains solid-blue territory, at least for now. Democrats still enjoy a five-point lead among Northeast voters in a generic ballot matchup, according to Politico. But with a stable of strong candidates, the region will look a lot less blue this fall as Republicans reclaim at least a few places which were traditional strongholds of the party.
— Andrew Stiles writes for National Review Online’s Battle ’10 blog.