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Turnover on tap for Legislature

Republicans seeking gains at State House

By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / May 26, 2010

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At least one-sixth of the state Legislature will turn over in the November election, underscoring the broader political churn this year as Republicans look to make gains in Massachusetts and many incumbents retire from Beacon Hill.

Legislative races are now largely set following a key deadline yesterday, and 32 seats among 200 in the House and Senate are up for grabs because incumbents are either retiring or running for another office, according to the secretary of state’s office. In all, 117 House and Senate races will be contested, and the GOP is hopeful it can build on its small minority at the State House.

“The trend is obvious. There are more competitive races, especially in suburban areas’’ where Republican candidates tend to compete best, said William F. Galvin, secretary of state, whose office is responsible for certifying that candidates gathered enough signatures to make it onto the ballot.

“Four years ago, the energy was clearly in the Democratic primary,’’ he added. This year, he said, the energy has moved to the general election, where many Democrats are being challenged.

The fresh faces would arrive in a year in which three new lawmakers have filled open seats in special elections.

Political parties have been charting election scenarios for months, but yesterday’s official numbers will put the election strategies into sharper focus.

“I think that every seat that we have a challenger for is in play,’’ said Jennifer Nassour, chairman of the state Republican Party. “I don’t think that anyone is safe. I think there is a lot of explaining to do, that people are very annoyed right now.’’

Nassour said the party is still researching which races to target: looking at precinct returns from Republican Scott Brown’s surprise US Senate victory, examining Democrats’ voting records, and vetting candidates running in open seats.

The overall math still favors Democrats, who greatly outnumber Republicans in voter registration and incumbency. Just five of 40 senators are Republicans, and the party holds only 15 seats in the 160-member House.

John Walsh, the state Democratic chairman, said that about two-thirds of those who chose not to run for reelection are running for different jobs, not fleeing anti-incumbent sentiment.

Still, Walsh said he is already seeing an unusually aggressive campaign season. The party has heard reports from four legislative districts throughout the state within the past week from voters who say they are getting partisan phone calls, he said. He and other party leaders described it as a push-poll campaign — in which callers claim to be taking opinion polls and then ask leading questions intended to smear opponents. “It seems to be coordinated in some fashion,’’ Walsh said.

While push-polls funded by outside groups are common in national elections, they are unusual in state legislative races.

Katie Wallace, a Democratic supporter in Somerville, said she received a call attacking her representative, Carl Sciortino, with “twisted questions’’ about his stances on immigration, the state sales tax, and a transgender rights bill that has recently drawn controversy.

Wallace said she was asked whether she would support Sciortino, knowing that he is sponsoring a bill that “establishes a civil right for men dressed as women to access ladies rooms and women’s locker rooms, even in our elementary schools.’’

Supporters of the bill say that description is an insulting caricature of what is actually a bill that would protect transgendered men and women from acts of discrimination. “It’s not us doing it,’’ Nassour said. “I think that we right now are the team with the winning message.’’

Republicans are looking to 1990 as a template to build on that message. That’s when Governor William F. Weld, a Republican, swept into office, along with 43 new House members and 13 new Senate members. Some Democrats have also studied that election, with concern.

“I’ve been looking at it through that lens,’’ said state Senator Susan C. Tucker, a Democrat from Andover who will retire this year. “It has some of the markings of 1990 indeed.’’

Tucker lost her House seat in the Weld election and then stayed out of the Legislature for a decade before returning to the Senate. She said she is retiring now because she has a new grandchild and has tired of 100-hour workweeks.

“It wasn’t that I was afraid of losing,’’ she said. “I actually realized, I was afraid of winning.’’

Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe staff contributed to this article. Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com.

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