The Republican Party's stunning losses in Bay State legislative races Tuesday leave the GOP with the fewest number of seats in the Massachusetts Legislature since at least 1867, State House records show.
Republicans now hold 21 of 160 seats in the House and 6 of 40 in the Senate, a net loss of three seats on Election Day despite an expensive effort by Governor Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.
The GOP intended to cut into Democrats' lead in the House and Senate, but the Democrats defended all their incumbents successfully and picked up two seats in the House and one in the Senate. As a result, Romney has even less hope of pushing through the Legislature his proposals to scale down goverment, such as his plan to merge the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the state Highway Department.
All told, 109 legislative races on Tuesday featured matchups between Republicans and Democrats, and Democrats took 65 percent of the votes in those contests, even though the Republican Party spent more than $3 million during the campaign. Democrats managed to win three seats held by Republicans who are voluntarily leaving the Legislature: Senator Jo Ann Sprague of Walpole, Representative Thomas George of Yarmouth, and Representative Shaun Kelly of Dalton.
Democrats now hold 86.5 percent of the 200 seats, up from 85 percent. It was small solace for Republicans yesterday that they still hold a slightly larger share of the Legislature's seats than they do registered voters in the state. Statewide, registered Republicans account for 12.99 percent of the state's voters, but they hold 13.5 percent of legislative seats.
Republican Party officials said they still see their vigorous campaign effort as a step in the right direction, because they created for the first time in decades a grass-roots network, a solid base of credible candidates, and the feeling that the Republicans can mount serious challenges to Democratic incumbents.
In addition, they also managed to hold onto seats in deeply divided districts, such as the Senate seat held by first-term Senator Scott Brown of Wrentham, and came close in a handful of other races. "We have put the other side on notice," said GOP executive director Tim O'Brien. "They shook down the unions. They spent a ton of money. They put in a lot of effort on the other side. It wasn't easy."
The new speaker of the Massachusetts House -- Salvatore F. DiMasi, a Boston Democrat -- said the results offered Republicans a lesson in how not to run a campaign.
"Yesterday's elections were a testament to the Democratic legislators' record of achievement and results," DiMasi said. "The Democrats ran positive campaigns and talked about issues that mattered to their constituents. Voters chose Democrats because they are involved in their districts, share a connection with their community, and delivery positive results for their districts."
Still, the Democratic Party spent more than $1 million to defend its incumbents and hold onto seats being vacated by party members. Also, incumbents such as Senator Therese Murray of Plymouth shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight off stiff challenges from well-funded Republicans who got plenty of help from Romney and his party, including access to voter databases and money. Murray beat Republican Timothy Duncan of Falmouth, who spent nearly $200,000 of his own money on the race.
The Republicans' losses occurred as a record number of voters, roughly 3 million, flooded to the polls to support US Senator John F. Kerry in his bid for the presidency. Kerry ended up grabbing 1.8 million votes here, or nearly 300,000 more than the 1.5 million registered Democrats in the Bay State.
A study released yesterday by MassVote, a voters rights group, indicated that much of the growth in the number of votes cast in the last few years came from voters in Boston and other Massachusetts cities, in comparison to 2000, the last presidential election year. Roughly 17,000 more Bostonians cast ballots Tuesday than in 2000, the study found, an increase of about 9 percent.
In the three legislative districts where Democrats picked up seats formerly held by Republicans, turnout was quite heavy, especially among Democrats who apparently came out to support Kerry.
For example, in the race to replace Representative Thomas George, Republican of Yarmouth, the Democrats saw far higher turnout than they did in 2002, when George easily defended his seat against Democrat Cleon Turner of Dennis. Yesterday, Turner got about 5,000 more votes than he did in 2002. But the Republican candidate hoping to succeed George, Richard Neitz of Yarmouth, received 46 votes fewer than George did in 2002.
In another Senate race, Democrat James Timilty of Walpole got 57 percent of the vote in the race to succeed retiring Senator Jo Ann Sprague, Republican of Walpole.
In the third race that Democrats took from the GOP, Denis Guyer of Dalton attracted 70 percent of the vote in a district currently held by Representative Shaun Kelly, a Republican.