Only nine percent of legislative primaries to be contested


In a month voters will cast ballots to decide Democratic and Republican primary races for the state Legislature, but they might be surprised to find how few choices there will be to make this summer.

With the primary election scheduled for Sept. 6, just days after the Labor Day holiday, and with few top-of-ticket races to drive turnout before the general election in November, all signs point toward a sleepy affair next month.

“Part of the answer is there are relatively few vacancies. I also think in the bigger picture after the Republicans picked up a lot of the seats they can reasonably expect to take it’s led to a truce and a sense that the contests that are out there tend to be contests between the parties instead of intramural,” said Secretary of State William Galvin, the state’s chief elections officer.

There are nine open seats in the House and three in the Senate this year, all but one on the Democratic side of the ticket generated by resignations or incumbents deciding to call it a career and sparking competitive races for both party nominations.

But of the potential 400 primary races for seats in the House and Senate, only 9 percent are being contested by more than one candidate from either party, meaning those seeking office will largely have a free pass to the November general election in all but 36 races.

Based on a News Service analysis of the Democratic and Republican primary ballots, there are 10 primary races for Senate seats, including seven Democratic primaries and three Republican contests.

Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth), Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), Sen. James Welch (D-Springfield) and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) are the only Senate incumbents facing Democratic primary challenges.

On the House side, voters will choose candidates in 26 races, including 21 Democratic contests and five Republican races. Republican Rep. Richard Bastien, a freshman from Gardner, is the only GOP incumbent with a primary challenger, while 15 House Democrats must first fend off a challenge from within their party to move on.

In the House, there are also two districts where the incumbent’s name will appear on the ballot but the lawmaker has since left the Legislature and does not plan to seek reelection. Both Rep. Michael Kane (D-Holyoke) and Rep. Charley Murphy (D-Burlington) resigned or announced plans to leave the House after it was too late to have their names removed from the ballot.

In Kane’s former district, the Fifth Hampden District, Aaron Vega is on the ballot as a Democrat and planned to challenge Kane before he resigned, while there are no Republicans running for the seat. In the 21st Middlesex District represented by Murphy, there are no candidates from either party on the ballot, though several candidates have already begun organizing sticker campaigns.

Democrats are not fielding any candidates in 16 House districts and three Senate districts, while the minority Republican Party has left 93 House seats and 24 Senate seat unchallenged. Sen. Robert Hedlund is the only Senate Republican who will face a Democratic challenger in November.

The competitive outlook doesn’t improve much in November. Of the 152 Democratic incumbents running for re-election in the House and Senate, only 38 will face Republican challenges, according to the News Service’s review of the ballots.

The lack of competition could put Democrats at ease if they need to travel to Charlotte, N.C. the first week in September for the Democratic National Convention, which overlaps with the primary election this year.

After Republicans managed to boost their ranks in the House from 15 to 33 following the 2010 election and subsequent special elections and runoffs, Democrats are targeting 15 of those GOP freshman, while Rep. Paul Adams (R-Andover) decided after redistricting to challenge for the state Senate seat held by Sen. Barry Finegold.

In addition to defending the 33 House seats and four Senate seats they currently hold, the Republican Party is challenging for 34 additional House seats and in 12 Senate districts.

The Republican Party has more than doubled the number of field offices it ran during the 2010 election, and is on pace to spend considerably more money on state races than it did during its successful effort two years ago.

According to Republican Party officials, the MassGOP spent $70,000 on legislative races in 2010. During this current cycle, the party spent $37,000 in 2011, $17,000 in 2012 and has $120,000 remaining in a state account dedicated to legislative candidate assistance.

In comparison, the state Democratic Party has $334,296 on hand to spend on state races, including House, Senate and competitive Governor’s Council races.

“The Massachusetts Democratic Party is committed to building a grassroots coordinated campaign that will help our candidates from the top of the ticket to the very local level. We help our state House and Senate candidates in a variety of ways, including staff support, offices, trainings and materials and state-of-the-art grassroots programs that help connect one-on-one with voters,” said Kevin Franck, a party spokesman in a statement.

Galvin predicted turnout for the primary could be strongest in western Massachusetts, where many voters will see a handful of competitive legislative races as well as a Democratic primary for Congress between U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, former state senator Andrea Nuciforo and Bill Shein, a contest for Governor’s Council and a court race.

“I think the west will do somewhat better not just because of the Congressional races, but other races on the undercard, if you will,” Galvin said.

Democratic and Republican primaries in the 4th Congressional District and a Democratic primary in the 9th Congressional District between U.S. Rep. William Keating and Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter could also generate interest, Galvin said.

In the 4th District being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, Democrat Joe Kennedy III is the heavy favorite over Rachel Brown and Herb Robinson, and second-time Republican candidate Sean Bielat is facing off against former Romney administration official Elizabeth Childs and David Steinhof.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
Galvin also suggested that redistricting could have had a slight chilling effect on the primaries with potential challengers not yet familiar with the contours of the new districts.

“It will be awhile before those new district coalesce, so there is no identity yet as a district,” he said.