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Yvonne Abraham

The GOP’s happy few

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / November 7, 2010

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Forget Charlie Baker. Scott Brown? So January.

The new standard-bearer for beleaguered Massachusetts Republicans is a cherubic 26-year-old who lives with his parents.

Meet Ryan Fattman, one of the 17 GOP candidates who took seats from Democrats in Tuesday’s election, doubling the size of the House minority.

The two-term Sutton selectman and his victorious comrades are all that stand between local Republicans and utter despair these days. Their success was the one bright spot in an election rout that was almost as shocking to Republicans as Brown’s Senate-election triumph was to Democrats.

Predictions of a Republican revolution led by the top of the ticket have yielded to talk about farm teams and gradual change. The candidates who were going to be footnotes to Tuesday’s results have become high notes.

Which is how Fattman, who bested four-term Democrat Jennifer Callahan, came to be sitting in a Beacon Hill café Friday morning, drinking iced coffee and doing his second interview of the day on his victory and the future of the Massachusetts Republican Party.

But before we get to that, can we just get the jokes out of the way? Fattman knows they’re hard to resist, and he’s heard them all.

“I have a thick skin,’’ he said. “I have to. I’m a Fattman.’’

He even has a few of his own, which doubled as catchy slogans:

“Beacon Hill needs to go on a diet. Who better to send them on one than a Fattman?’’

“I’ll find the pork in the budget.’’

Ba-duh-bum.

So, on to weightier matters. Why did Fattman succeed when so many more prominent GOP candidates failed?

The Rep-elect says he did it by combining a message of fiscal restraint with optimism, railing against waste while reminding people of all the wonderful things the state has to offer.

“I took Charlie Baker’s message and packaged it in a different way,’’ he said, diplomatically.

He steered mostly clear of social issues (he’s antiabortion personally but wouldn’t act to limit choice, and he has “no qualms’’ about gay marriage), focusing instead on criticizing Callahan for being a typical pol. He hammered her relentlessly for taking $25,000 in per diem payments, the allowance some legislators claim for driving to and from the State House.

“I will never take a per diem,’’ he vowed for the umpteenth time on Friday.

The other key to Fattman’s triumph: His right shoe. He pulled off the beat-up black loafer, its sad upper barely clinging to the battered sole, a la Adlai Stevenson.

“I knocked on 6,000 doors,’’ he said. Fattman showed off that loafer whenever he got a chance on the campaign trail. It became his version of Scott Brown’s truck.

But winter is almost here. Fattman will have no choice but to get new shoes. And the campaign high will yield to harsh reality. He’ll be one of just 30-or-so Republicans, among 160 legislators. His party will have no more power in the chamber than it did before.

If Fattman is bummed about this, he isn’t letting on. His victory isn’t just about a seat in the House now, he said. It’s about what comes next.

“Because the party is so small,’’ he said, “we have a chance to shape its future.’’

He has talked to a lot of people since Tuesday who think he can go further. He chuckles modestly when I ask him about this, saying he needs to do the job he just got.

“I’m not really thinking about the political pressure of being on my party’s front line,’’ he said. “I feel a responsibility to the people who elected me.’’

He’s Ryan Fattman, he’s from Sutton, and he drives a Saturn.

Also, this new man of the House says it’s time to get a place of his own.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com