5 questions New England voters will answer in 2018

Boston, MA - 7/18/2017  -  Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker talks about the resignation of his chief of staff Steve Kadish at the State House in Boston, MA, July 18, 2017. (Keith Bedford/Globe Staff)

EMBARGOED UNTIL 3:30PM ON JULY 18, 2017
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker talks at the State House in Boston. –Keith Bedford / The Boston Globe

It’s just one week into 2018 and still less than year into President Donald Trump’s presidential term, which means its nearly election season again. It almost seems like it never left.

However, in New England, the midterms bring a round of local races and intrigue that the region somewhat lacked last year with major elected officials in Massachusetts on the ballot, a few open congressional seats, and an idiosyncratic battle in Maine.

1. Who will actually challenge the most popular governor in America?

Massachusetts isn’t typically friendly territory for a Republican. But Gov. Charlie Baker’s brand of moderation so far seems to be winning over the liberal state. With approval ratings near 70 percent, Baker has repeatedly been named the most popular governor in the country.

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The Republican governor and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, announced late last November their plans to seek re-election — and did so relatively quietly, perhaps not to pump air into a race where their Democratic challengers have been struggling for oxygen.

So far, three candidates are running in the Democratic field to take on Baker: Jay Gonzalez, a former economic advisor to Gov. Deval Patrick; Bob Massie, a longtime environmental activist and businessman; and Setti Warren, a former Newton mayor. All three promise to push a more progressive agenda than Baker and to speak out more vocally against the Trump administration. For what it’s worth, Warren appears to be running ahead in the endorsement game, though Gonzalez and Massie have their own prominent backers from the Bernie Sanders wing of the party.

It’s still early, but it looks like it will be a steep climb for whoever comes out of the Democratic primary. A WBUR poll in November found Baker with huge leads over all three candidates (who are still not well known among voters) in a hypothetical general election matchup.

2. Elizabeth Warren, same question:

Elizabeth Warren may not be the most popular senator in America, but the Democrat holds a firm advantage headed into her first re-election campaign. Up big in early polls and armed with a massive campaign fundraising haul, experts peg her as a favorite to hold her seat for a second term.

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But that doesn’t mean Republicans won’t try to take her down.

The current field of challengers is pitting more moderate Republicans — like businessman John Kingston and former Mitt Romney aide Beth Lindstrom — against Trump backers like state Rep. Geoff Diehl and self-described email inventor Shiva Ayyadurai, who is now running as an independent.

In truth, Warren’s 2018 race could be more about 2020, as outside conservative groups take aim at the senator in an attempt to dampen any chances she would have in a prospective presidential bid.

3. Who will come out of the jam-packed field to replace Niki Tsongas?

Rep. Niki Tsongas must have a nice job. Or at least it must seem that way.

As of this writing, a diverse field of 13 candidates — including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s former chief of staff, a former U.S. ambassador to Denmark, a former Pentagon intelligence analyst, and a number of local elected officials and businesspeople — are running. And that’s just the Democratic field.

The Republican side is currently just a two-man race, after one candidate dropped out the day after Christmas.

The Cook Political Report rates the 3rd District as solidly Democratic and considering the edge Democrats hold going into the midterms, the primary election could effectively crown a winner. Tsongas has said she won’t endorse a successor in the crowded race, so it will be up to the people of central-northeastern Massachusetts to pick a winner.

4. Which fresh face wins out in this New Hampshire battleground?

Since 2007, Granite Staters have seen their 1st Congressional District bounce back and forth (and back and forth) between Democrat Carol Shea-Porter and Republican Frank Guinta. This year will be something different.

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Shea-Porter, who currently holds the seat, announced in October she would not seek re-election, and Guinta doesn’t appear to be trying to win back his old seat. That means a new generation of aspiring leaders are vying for the district.

Six Democrats have entered the race, including Executive Councilor (and Puritan Backroom co-owner) Chris Pappas, as well as two state representatives and two former Iraq War veterans, jumping at the opportunity now that the seat is wide open.

“That’s a lot of pent-up political ambition,” Saint Anselm College professor of politics Chris Galdieri told SeacoastOnline.com last month. “That also means the stakes are high and the primary could get divisive or nasty.”

Again, it’s a two-man race on the Republican side, as state Sen. Andy Sanborn takes on former police chief Eddie Edwards.

The district has recently been a battleground with potential to flip either way. Shea-Porter only narrowly won in 2016 against a scandal-plagued Guinta, as Trump carried the district in the presidential election. However, Democrats are counting on signs of a national wave in this year’s midterms to hold the seat.

5. Can supporters save ranked choice voting in Maine?

Ever heard of a “people’s veto”? Well, in Maine, it might just happen.

In 2016, Maine residents voted to adopt ranked choice voting, becoming the first state to adopt the fundamental reform in which citizens rank candidates by preference instead of choosing just one on their ballot. However, the voting system’s future was thrown into turmoil in May when a state court advised that it violated Maine’s constitution. State lawmakers subsequently passed a bill in October that potentially repeals the law in 2021.

This left ranked choice voting supporters with one last means of recourse: the people’s veto.

According to state law, supporters have until Feb. 2 (exactly 90 days after the legislature adjourned last fall) to collect 61,123 signatures. If the signatures are successfully filed and certified, ranked choice will be the method of voting in the state’s June primary and voters will also get to vote on whether to restore the law for all primaries and House and Senate general elections.

The Portland Press Herald reported in November that the campaign collected roughly 32,000 signatures in the first day after they filed their people’s veto application. With less than a month to go, Committee for Ranked Choice Voting spokeswoman Crystal Canney said Thursday that they had collected over 50,000.

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