Clinton outperformed Obama in Mass.

Margin not enough to shift state legislative races

HILLARY CLINTON didn’t do as well on Election Day in most states as President Obama did in 2012  – except in a handful of spots, including Massachusetts. In fact, Clinton defeated Donald Trump by a larger margin in Massachusetts than Obama beat Senator John McCain in 2008. However, the size of the margin was not big enough to have a major effect on contested state legislative races.

In CommonWealth’s last issue, my article, entitled Why Trump’s performance matters in Mass., described a model showing correlation between the Massachusetts Democratic/Republican margin and the performance of candidates for the state Legislature. The article said a 37-point victory, like 1996’s Clinton/Dole match-up, would signal a bad night for Republican state legislative candidates, while an Obama-like 24 point Clinton victory would lead to a more typical outcome.

Benson 1

Trump’s 29-point loss in Massachusetts, while slightly larger than McCain’s and Romney’s losses, was not large enough to have a significant effect on state legislative margins. The margins in the competitive legislative races were well-distributed around my model’s baseline predictions.

In my list of 13 competitive races, there were several where Republicans over-performed, several where Democrats over-performed, and a bunch in the middle. The margins were nicely distributed around an average of zero, showing that the predictions were not biased toward Republicans or Democrats.

The most notable GOP over-performers were incumbent Kate Campanale, who held onto her Democratic-leaning 17th Worcester seat, and William Crocker, who won the Democratic-leaning open 2d Barnstable seat previously held by Democratic Rep. Brian Mannal.

In the middle, the remaining open House seats—the 3rd Plymouth with Democratic winner Joan Meschino, the 10th Worcester with Democratic winner Brian Murray, and the 4th Worcester with Democratic winner Natalie Higgins—all came within 1 point of the predicted margin.

Benson 2

In terms of Democratic over-performance, Democratic Reps. Jim Cantwell and Josh Cutler continued to show strength in Republican-leaning districts, beating projections by 23 and 15 points, respectively. Former representative Matthew Patrick made a competitive race out of the 3d Barnstable seat held by incumbent GOP Rep. David Vieira.

One of the most surprising results came from the 5th Plymouth House race between GOP incumbent David Decoste and Democratic challenger Kara Nyman, who were competing to represent the towns of Hanover, Norwell, and Rockland. The district is so Republican-leaning that it didn’t make my list of competitive contests. My model predicted a Decoste win of 28 points, while Nyman came very close to pulling out a surprise win, losing by just 2 points, or about 500 votes.

Meet the Author
Clinton’s win in Massachusetts was an exception by 2016 national standards, but standard by Bay State measures, leading to few surprises in state legislative races.

Brent Benson analyzes politics and public policy in Massachusetts using a quantitative approach on the Mass. Numbers blog ( You can follow him on Twitter @bwbensonjr.