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Analysis

For Republican slate, money will be an issue in Bay State

By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / September 15, 2010

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Now comes the real test. With the primary over, Republicans have seven weeks to demonstrate whether they have the candidates and resources to capitalize on the most favorable political climate in two decades and grab a share of power on Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill.

The state’s political landscape is probably still quaking eight months after Republican Scott Brown rocked the nation with his victory in the special US Senate election. But yesterday’s sketchy results reflected no new tremors, though lower turnout was noted in many urban areas, which traditionally are Democratic strongholds.

For the first time in memory, the Bay State had no primary in either major party for the office of governor. That’s the race that historically generates the most interest and draws voters to the polls. As a result, turnout was generally low and spotty, only moderately higher in those areas with multiple contested intraparty races.

Nevertheless, Democratic turnout was running slightly more than double that of Republicans. That’s a higher Republican turnout rate than in any of the last four primaries in which Republicans captured the governorship. In the hotly contested races for the nominations in the 10th Congressional District, Republican turnout was not far below that of the Democrats. In 1996, the last time there was an open seat in the 10th, Democratic turnout was more than double the Republican vote in the primary.

The main event is Nov. 2, and the Republican Party’s candidates will face many of the problems the minority party has had to deal with for years. Money is part of that equation. For example, Republican nominees to challenge eight incumbent Democrats for US House seats start the race at an overwhelming financial disadvantage. The eight incumbents, on average, had almost $1.5 million in their campaign accounts as of Aug. 25, the most recent deadline, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Their GOP challengers, chosen yesterday, had an average of $46,000 cash on hand.

The Republican congressional candidates also remain a relatively unknown group of very conservative challengers, with little formal political experience or demonstrated capacity to raise competitive sums on their own. An exception is state Representative Jeffrey D. Perry of Sandwich, who beat former state treasurer Joseph D. Malone and two other Republicans to win the nomination in the open 10th Congressional District. That open seat remains the party’s best chance to crack the state’s all-Democratic delegation in the US House.

Nationally, Republicans have a strong chance to take back the House, but there is no evidence to date that the National Republican Congressional Committee intends to spend money in one of the most Democratic states in the nation in an attempt to pick up a seat.

For statewide offices, the Republicans will be on a roughly equal financial footing with the Democrats, fielding what could be the strongest GOP team in years. The Massachusetts Republican Party, however, has drained its coffers, mostly by spending more than $1 million to fund advertisements to boost its candidate for governor, Charles D. Baker.

The party plans to reload with a big fund-raiser Oct. 1 featuring Brown and US Senator John McCain of Arizona to benefit the state party and the Baker campaign, according to party spokeswoman Tarah Breed.

Jennifer Nassour, chairwoman of the state Republican Party, issued an upbeat statement last night about the GOP’s prospects heading into the stretch run.

“For the first time in a long time, the wind is at our party’s back in Massachusetts,’’ she said. “Voters are motivated and eager for change because Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill have done nothing to create jobs.’’

The most frequent comparison is to 1990, when Republicans captured half of the six constitutional offices and enough seats in the state Senate to sustain the vetoes of Governor William F. Weld during his first two years in office.

Another factor that should help Republicans and intensify the energy of their supporters is the fact that all three statewide ballot questions on Nov. 2 fit neatly into the conservative, antitax, smaller-government platform of the minority party. There are no countervailing questions likely to galvanize liberal activists.

One question would repeal the sales tax on alcoholic beverages sold in package and other stores. Another would roll back the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent. The third would repeal a law that lets developers of housing proposals with affordable units avert local zoning laws. The so-called antisnob zoning law, Chapter 40B, has been under fire in suburban communities for years.

Brian C. Mooney can be reached at bmooney@globe.com.

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