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U.S. Sen. Scott Brown's upset victory in January ignited the 2010 hopes for Republicans not only locally but nationally. Then came the November midterm elections.
The Democrats succeeded in retaining all of the 10 U.S. House seats allotted to Massachusetts, and repelled the GOP tide that swept the rest of the nation with wins in the gubernatorial and remaining constitutional races.
It not only provided a reality check for state Republicans, but Brown himself.
Heading into his re-election cycle, the fledgling senator faces a delicate balancing act. He is trying to maintain his standing among national Republicans while retaining the moderates and independents who backed him in the special election to replace a liberal Democratic icon, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
State Republicans, meanwhile, face the stark reality that their long anticipated and highly touted candidate — Charles Baker — failed in his bid for governor. They also lost races for state treasurer and auditor, as well as Congress in several districts, despite having credible challengers.
Their only success was gaining 16 seats in the 160-member state House, pushing them over 30 members for the first time since 1996. But in the 40-member Senate, they lost a seat, leaving just four Republican members.
"The Republican campaigns and candidates did not learn the right lessons from Scott Brown's victory, so instead of following his formula for success, they did just the opposite," said Republican political strategist Todd Domke.
Where Brown emphasized his independence, rarely referring to being a Republican, many candidates underscored their GOP connection, Domke said. Where the senator stressed his moderation, some like 5th Congressional District candidate Bill Hudak underscored his conservative beliefs. And where Brown exuded integrity, some fall contenders such as 10th District candidate Jeff Perry faced questions about unsavory episodes in their past.
Even Baker's ads featured little of the folksiness emanating from Brown's commercials filmed in gritty South Boston, his kitchen or featuring his two daughters.
"With Baker, we never got a sense of him personally," Domke said.
The head of the Massachusetts Republican Party disputed that critique, noting the GOP ratcheted up its state House contingent by knocking off 12 sitting Democrats while retaining all its seats and winning four open seats. It also won two seats on the Governor's Council, ousted a Democrat to win a county commissioner's seat in Plymouth and replaced a departing Democrat sheriff in Worcester.
"I don't look at anything from this election cycle as a negative; I think quite the opposite. It was a tremendous, energizing time for the party," said Chairwoman Jennifer Nassour.
She said activists became more active. First-time candidates were inspired to run. And those who did forced Democrats to defend their seats, preventing them from campaigning elsewhere and diverting precious campaign donations to what otherwise would be considered a reliably Democratic state.
Auditor candidate Mary Connaughton, who came the closest of any Republican candidate to winning, said the experience — and results — may inspire her to run again.
"I think that the Democrats did a great job of getting out the vote," especially in the cities, she said. "That made a huge difference. And I think it's time the Republicans take a page from the Democrats' playbook in that area."
Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh agreed with Connaughton's analysis.
"I do think, honestly, that we were not ready for Scott Brown's election, myself included," Walsh said. "I think people took the race for granted, unfortunately, and the impact of that has been real for us."
Walsh said Brown motivated the GOP base in January, and the Democrats learned that lesson for the fall campaign.
But Walsh predicts both sides will be on guard in 2012, when Brown is up for re-election, as is President Obama.
"I don't suspect, honestly, that the Republicans will be discouraged by, to borrow a phrase, the 'shellacking' we gave them," said Walsh. "I think they're going to come back with candidates in '12 that will be strong."
This program aired on December 24, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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