Something to keep you occupied besides the glowing orange menace
Democrats are poised to stave off every challenge to Massachusetts congressional seats. US Sen. Ed Markey’s biggest challenge is likely behind him, with the odds of Bay Staters sending a conservative to the Senate amid a Supreme Court crisis seemingly at an all-time low. And there’s no chance that either state legislative chamber switches hands in 2020.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing at stake. And there are some races with the potential to tell us a lot about the short-term—and perhaps long-term—future of Bay State politics.
Here are five to keep an eye on:
Worcester and Middlesex state Senate district
Republican Dean Tran’s special election victory to a state Senate seat in 2017 was one of the few bright spots for the post-Trump MassGOP. His win in Worcester and Middlesex, a district that had been Democratic for decades, was one of just three pickups at the state legislative level for Republicans nationwide in 2017.
Then scandal hit. In March, Tran was stripped of his leadership positions in the Massachusetts Senate after an ethics investigation revealed that he had regularly used his taxpayer-funded State House staff for campaign functions and activities. The move left Tran disgraced, but more importantly, ineffective.
Without any committee positions, Tran’s influence in delivering for the central Mass district, which spans from Leominster to Bolton, was diminished.
Democrats have lined up behind Army veteran John J. Cronin, who ran unopposed in the September primary. Cronin has run a relatively standard Democratic campaign: invest in infrastructure, health care, and education.
“There are 160,000 people in the Worcester and Middlesex District that deserve a state senator who brings that quality of leadership and integrity to Beacon Hill on their behalf again,” Cronin told the Leominster Champion.
Republicans are in a state of desperation when it comes to the state Senate. In May, the party lost two seats, or a third of its caucus, in special elections. They currently hold just four of 40 seats in the legislature, and a nightmare scenario could see the MassGOP representation whittled down to just two Republican senators in the entire state.
Plymouth and Norfolk state Senate district
The other target for Democrats is Patrick O’Connor, who has represented the South Shore Plymouth and Norfolk district in the state Senate since 2016. Unseating him will be a tougher task.
A moderate in the Charlie Baker mold, O’Connor won reelection by over 5,000 votes in 2018, a good year overall for Democrats in Massachusetts.
But the district has shifted toward Democrats in recent years, and liberals see an opening in 2020. O’Connor is facing a progressive challenge from Democrat Meg Wheeler. Wheeler, an advocate for left-leaning proposals like free college and single-payer health care, is campaigning to change a “fundamentally broken” system.
“It’s broken for families who are struggling to pay the bills and afford basic necessities like child care and healthcare,” Wheeler states on her campaign website. “It’s broken for women who are still fighting for access to abortions and equal pay. It’s broken for Black people whose lives are being threatened and unjustly harmed every day. It’s broken because the strings are being pulled by corporations and big donors and as a result, we’re all suffering.”
With Dems defending seats in most of the bigger races in 2020, Wheeler represents the best chance for progressives to make gains in November.
Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex state Senate district
One area the MassGOP could get its hopes up is in the south/central Mass Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex district, which Democrat Becca Rausch flipped by less than 2,000 votes in 2018.
Before that, Republican Richard Ross had occupied the seat since Scott Brown vacated it in 2010. But like other suburban spots in the state and across the country, the region has steadily shifted toward Democrats since 2016. In this race, at least, Republicans adjusted.
Instead of running a hard-right, Trump-aligned conservative for the seat, Republicans nominated Mattew Kelly, a moderate with 12 years of experience in Franklin town politics. As most of the state has trended toward Dems since 2016, Charlie Baker’s approval rating has steadily improved as well. It’s that crossover that could be key to a Republican win in the district.
“As State Senator I will take a pragmatic approach, working with people all across the district to be their voice on Beacon Hill,” Kelly states on his campaign website.
12th Essex state House district
A crowded field has packed into the 13th Essex, a North Shore district including Danvers and parts of Middleton and Peabody. A total of five candidates are competing in the district where outgoing Democrat Theodore Speliotis won by less than 3% in 2018.
Former Democratic state Rep. Sally Kerans is running for her old seat, which she occupied from 1991-1997.
Robert May, who has centered his campaign around supporting law enforcement and fighting police reform, will carry the GOP mantle.
A trio of independents round out the field: William Bates, Christopher Keohane, and Jason Guida. Bates worked as district coordinator for Speliotis and has nearly a decade of experience in local politics, while Guida has the backing of several local law enforcement groups, which typically back Republicans or conservative Democrats.
The array of candidates could lead to a spoiler scenario, or even volatile vote that could send a non-affiliated candidate to Beacon Hill.
5th Barnstable state House district
It won’t be a pickup if Republicans win in the 5th Barnstable district, which is made up of Sandwich and parts of Barnstable, Bourne, and Plymouth, but it would make for a sharp move to the right.
Steven Xiarhos, a former member of the Yarmouth Police Department who strongly opposes sanctuary cities and police reform, won the Sept. 1 primary over a more moderate candidate. He will face Democrat James Devers in a district that has voted strongly conservative in recent years. In 2018, Republican Randy Hunt won the district by close to 15%.
Patrick Cochran is an independent journalist covering politics and grassroots activism.