Karen Barry
Karen Barry

Two experienced politicians from well-known area families are vying for the open state House of Representatives seat in the Sixth Plymouth District, in one of the most closely watched legislative races in Massachusetts this November.

Republican Karen Barry, a member of the Duxbury Fiscal Advisory Committee and a former Hanson recreation commissioner, and Democrat Josh Cutler, a Duxbury Planning Board member and former Hull selectman, are competing for the post that incumbent Republican Representative Daniel K. Webster of Pembroke is giving up after 10 years in office.

The open seat, representing Pembroke, Hanson, and most of Duxbury, presents an important opportunity for the state Democratic Party, which lost five south suburban state House seats to Republicans in 2010 and another in a 2011 special election.

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For the state GOP, which has only 33 seats in the 160-member House, losing the seat would be a major blow.

The district is a rare Republican stronghold in Massachusetts. The GOP has held the seat since at least the Civil War, and Duxbury, the second-most populous community in the district with about 15,000 residents, is one of the few towns in the state with more registered Republican voters than registered Democrats.

There is one other open state House seat in the south suburbs: Democrat Geraldine Creedon, who has represented the 11th Plymouth District in Brockton and Easton for the past 18 years, is retiring. Democrat Claire Cronin and Republican Daniel J. Murphy, both from Easton, are competing for that seat in the Nov. 6 election.

Cutler, whose family has been prominent in newspaper publishing on the South Shore since the 1950s, said the district’s history of being represented by Republicans “goes back to Reconstruction, and I don’t mean the Route 3A type of reconstruction.”

Cutler, 41, who has taken a leave from his job as publisher of Clipper Press, is a member of Duxbury’s Alternative Energy Committee. A Duxbury native, he lived in Hull in the 1990s but has resided in Duxbury for about 12 years. His grandfather, the late John Cutler, founded the Duxbury Clipper and his father, the late David Cutler, founded the Mariner weekly newspaper chain.

“If I win, I’d be proud to be the first Democrat, but I’m not going to dwell on it very long,” Cutler said. “The representative needs to be someone who is going to represent all the folks in the district, not just one political party.”

Barry, whose father, Charles W. Mann of Hanson, held the Sixth Plymouth District House seat for nine terms before retiring in 1994, said the seat has remained in GOP hands so long because voters share the party’s values.

“It’s not that the district has so many registered Republicans,” Barry, 49, said. “There are a lot of unenrolled voters and Democrats. But it’s a district where Republicans, unenrolled, and Democrats don’t want higher taxes, and value their personal freedoms.”

Barry is on leave from her position as public information officer for Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph D. McDonald Jr. Her father has been very much involved in her campaign, she said.

The two candidates have agreed on some issues. Both say boosting state aid to education would be a top priority, and they both back requiring proof of legal US residency as a requirement to receive public benefits.

Barry favors cutting state taxes and spending. Cutler has called for a series of state government reforms aimed at cutting costs. He also advocates devoting more resources to human services programs.

In his campaign, Cutler has highlighted his experience as a small businessman and his problem-solving abilities. Barry has stressed the importance of having a Republican in the office to counter Democratic dominance on Beacon Hill.

Barry is a late entrant to the contest. A former supporter of Republican incumbent Webster, she decided to challenge him as a write-in candidate three weeks before the Sept. 6 primary.

Webster won the primary but four days later announced he was withdrawing as a candidate in the final election. The state Republican Party then selected Barry as the party’s nominee.

Cutler, who ran unsuccessfully against Webster in 2010, has a substantial head start campaigning and also a big fund-raising lead over Barry.

At the Aug. 19 filing deadline, Cutler had almost $23,000 in his campaign treasury and had already spent more than $44,700 this year. Barry had $2,227 at the filing deadline, which came just as she was launching her primary bid. She said she raised and spent about $10,000 in the primary.

Barry said her late start and Cutler’s fund-raising lead represent a challenge.

“I’m definitely the underdog in the race,” she said. “But I’m not a stranger in the district. I think I can jump into the general election.”

The campaign has, so far, been cordial. Both are members of the appointed town committee planning Duxbury’s 375th anniversary celebration.

“We’ve been working together the past year,” Cutler said. “We get along very well.”

In 2010, Cutler lost to Webster by 500 votes, or just over 2 percentage points. He also ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 1998 in the Hull-Hingham-Cohasset District.

This is Barry’s first bid for elective office.

In last year’s redistricting, one voting precinct in Halifax was removed from the district and one precinct from Duxbury was added. Five of Duxbury’s six voting precincts are in the district.

Pembroke makes up the largest portion of the district, followed by Duxbury and Hanson.