Blue wave rolls across state
Democrats hope for down-ballot gains to add to lopsided dominance in Legislature
WITH AMERICANS CASTING ballots in an election unlike any other, Massachusetts residents voted in record numbers, with Democrats hoping that a blue wave washing over Bay State contests extends to the presidential race and pivotal US Senate contests as well as to down-ballot races for seats in the already Democrat-dominated state Legislature.
From the home of the shot heard ‘round the world, the state’s heavily Democratic electorate seemed on track to deliver Joe Biden one of his biggest margins in any state as the 77-year-old former vice president hoped his third run for the nation’s top office would be the charm. Early returns showed Biden with 67 percent of the Massachusetts vote to 31 percent for President Trump.
Biden rode a tailwind of favorable polling into Election Day as he looked to make Trump a one-term president and end the run of a man who disrupted nearly every norm associated with the presidency, but results are proving to be far closer than polls had projected. The outcome remained far from clear early Wednesday morning, with the result hinging on a handful of swing states still counting votes.
In the presidential contest, FiveThirtyEight’s final polling average on Monday had Biden pegged to receive 66 percent of the vote in Massachusetts to 29 percent for Trump, making it second only to Vermont as the most lopsided projection in Biden’s favor of all 50 states
In Massachusetts races, Democrats maintained their firm hold on the state’s congressional delegation, with Sen. Ed Markey cruising to an easy victory, all eight Democratic House incumbents easily winning reelection, and Democrat Jake Auchincloss of Newton claiming the open Fourth Congressional District seat vacated by Joe Kennedy.
Markey, who beat Kennedy in a hard-fought Democratic primary, crushed Republican Kevin O’Connor, a Dover attorney and first-time candidate who touted endorsements from police unions across the state, but found it hard to gain a foothold on a ticket headed by a president deeply unpopular with Massachusetts voters. With 34 percent of the vote in, Markey was pulling 68 percent to O’Connor’s 32 percent.
“In this race, justice was on the ballot,” Markey said Tuesday night in claiming victory, ticking off what he said were voters’ concerns on health care, education, and economic inequality.
Auchincloss, a Newton city councilor won a crowded seven-way Democratic primary in September, defeated Republican Julie Hall of Attleboro to become the newest member of the state’s congressional delegation. The 32-year-old Marine corps veteran, who was briefly a registered Republican and worked on Charlie Baker’s 2014 campaign for governor, chalked up his victory to the district’s clear preference for a strong progressive agenda. “I think the voters of the Massachusetts Fourth said they want a member of Congress who can deliver on key progressive priorities such as fighting climate change and transitioning to a clean energy economy, standing up for racial justice, standing up for women’s reproductive rights, ensuring gun safety by banning assault weapons, and most importantly, putting science back in the driver’s seat by beating back the coronavirus virus,” said Auchincloss.
Democrats in the state were hoping that the huge turnout and energy directed at ending Trump’s reign would make its way down the ballot to races for the state Legislature, where the party was looking to add to its already overwhelming dominance of the state House of Representatives and Senate.
“I think there’s a big opportunity here in Massachusetts this year, and I think we’re going to win seats that we never contemplated winning in the past,” Markey said on Monday at a get-out-the-vote press conference in Dorchester.
Only 50 of the 200 seats in the two legislative chambers were contested today, continuing the state’s ignoble tradition of being among the least competitive states when it comes to legislative races.
The energy for Republican candidates under Lyons, a former state rep who has pulled the party hard to right and embraced the full Trump agenda, has in fact been waning.
Republicans lost two Senate seats and one House seat in special elections earlier this year, potentially bad omens for the GOP’s legislative fortunes in a high-turnout presidential race. “Republicans haven’t done well in legislative races of late, and an overwhelming victory by Biden is going to put in jeopardy some of those down ballot seats,” said Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College.
Republicans claim only four seats in the 40-member Senate, and at least one of those appeared to be jeopardy. Sen. Dean Tran of Fitchburg, who was sanctioned earlier this year by the Senate Ethics Committee for having State House staff members carry out campaign tasks, was facing a strong challenge from Democratic newcomer John Cronin.
Republicans hold just 31 of the 160 House seats, and Democrats saw opportunity in at least a few Republican-held districts as well as in open races for seats GOP lawmakers were leaving. Two races for open House seats, however, went to Republicans, as Steven Xiarhos defeated Democrat James Dever for the Cape Cod seat vacated by Republican Randy Hunt. In Western Massachusetts, Republican Kelly Pease defeated Democrat Matthew Garlo for the seat vacated by Democrat John Velis, who won a special election for state Senate in May, marking a pick-up for the GOP.
John Walsh, the former state Democratic Party chairman who helmed Markey’s campaign this year, said there may be a limit to Democrats’ ability to make further significant inroads in the Legislature. “We are, in many ways, in a situation with the Republican Party where their seats are in pretty Republican areas,” Walsh said on Monday.
The election season, like most facets of everyday life since mid March, was upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Candidates — with exception of Trump, who continued to hold large rallies despite public health warnings against such events — were forced to make their case on Zoom or in smaller, socially distanced gatherings. Meanwhile, voting itself was transformed, as Massachusetts joined with many states in giving every voter the option to vote by mail.
Bay State residents took up the offer in droves, with more than 2.3 million ballots cast before polls opened on Tuesday morning between mailed ballots and those going to an early voting location during the last two weeks in October. More than half of all registered Democrats (55.5 percent) had already voted before Election Day, a far higher share than the 37.9 percent of Republicans who had done so. Of those not unrolled under a party designation or under a third party, 46.8 percent voted early.
Secretary of State William Galvin estimated this week that 1.3 million voters would cast ballots at polling places on Election Day, putting the state on pace to set a new record for presidential turnout, exceeding by about 300,000 the number of voters who cast ballots in the 2016 election.
More than 100 million Americans cast early votes or mailed in ballots, meaning more than half of all votes in the presidential election will have been cast before Election Day for the first time in history.
Any further contraction of the already tiny Republican caucus in the Legislature would underscore the already tenuous connection between the party’s conservative activist base and moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who polls higher favorability ratings among Massachusetts Democrats than Republicans.
Baker has largely cut his ties to the state party since Lyons’s ascent four years ago, seeking to influence races instead through an independent super PAC run by political allies of the governor. The Massachusetts Majority super PAC has spent more than $900,000 over the last two months to boost moderate Democrats as well as Republicans, though it has increasingly tilted its spending for the November election toward Republicans.Further erosion of the GOP’s limited hold on legislative seats could fuel support for a leadership change when the state party chair’s position comes up for vote in January.