Politics

Democrats flipped two state Senate districts in special elections. Republicans now only have 4 seats.

Democrats scored wins in the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire and the Plymouth and Barnstable districts Tuesday.

The Massachusetts State House. Elise Amendola / AP, File

Democrats picked up two Massachusetts Senate seats Tuesday, flipping districts from Republicans, who now hold four seats in the state’s 40-member upper chamber.

State Rep. John Velis, a Westfield Democrat, beat John Cain, a Southwick Republican newcomer, to take the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District, returning the seat to Democrats for the first time in 25 years, MassLive reports.

“I’m just humbled,” the senator-elect said. “I have the best team in the world. It’s not about me, it’s about the people who came out and shared their support and under these circumstances.”

Meanwhile, Falmouth Democrat Susan Moran bested Republican James “Jay” McMahon III, of Bourne, for the Plymouth and Barnstable District, according to The Cape Cod Times. Moran will be the first Democrat to hold the seat since former Senate President Therese Murray did not seek another term in 2014.

“This was a spectacular effort,” Moran told her supporters, the newspaper reports. “I have a plethora of riches of support. I’m ready to hit the ground running. There’s a lot to be done.”

So what do the losses mean for state Republicans?

For starters, state Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford framed the victories as a rejection of President Donald Trump, building unity as Democrats head into another round of special elections next month and what’s likely to be a contentious — and polarizing — presidential election in November.

“Two areas that were strong for Donald Trump a few years ago came back home and voted blue tonight,” Bickford said in a statement Tuesday night. “Democrats and independents are united now more than ever, and we will continue to work together through the fall. These two flipped seats are a sign of things to come in a few months.”

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Although Republicans, with Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, control the state’s executive branch, the party also only holds 31 out of the 160 seats in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Two party veterans, Reps. Randy Hunt and Elizabeth Poirier, are not seeking re-election this year, according to the State House News Service. And as Politico’s Stephanie Murray pointed out, two of the remaining four Senate Republicans will face difficult races later this year.

Sen. Dean Tran, of Fitchburg, was removed from his leadership post in the Senate’s GOP caucus in March after a Senate Committee on Ethics investigation found he asked his staff, whose salaries are paid by taxpayers, to complete campaign tasks. Sen. Patrick O’Connor, of the Plymouth and Norfolk District, will face a Democratic opponent for a second consecutive election cycle after winning by a 6 percent margin in 2018.

But the party is being selective in how it’s approaching the 200 House and Senate seats up for grabs this year.

MassGOP Chair Jim Lyons told the news service recently the party is throwing its weight behind races in districts where Republicans have fared well in the past and forgoing deep investment in long-shot elections.

“We both know how difficult it is in Massachusetts to win, but there is a real yearning for different viewpoints,” Lyons said. “Whether we can turn that into support and votes, we’re certainly going to give that a shot.”

That leaves Republicans on the ticket in about a third of the elections statewide this year, with GOP candidates expected in approximately 55 House districts and eight Senate districts.

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Lyons said local voters want another option besides the “radical Democrats,” the news service reports.

In a statement Tuesday night thanking McMahon and Cain for running, Lyons echoed a similar message.

“We lost both races,” Lyons wrote on Twitter. “We are disappointed. The radical Democrats are committed to fundamentally change our country. We are committed to Keep America Great.”

Still, Republicans see opportunity moving forward. Lyons told the news service the party is particularly watching the House seat to be left vacant by Democrat Rep. Theodore Speliotis, of Danvers, and the Tewksbury and Wilmington district helmed by Democrat Rep. David Robertson.

Republican State Committeewoman Susan Smiley is looking to take the 12th Worcester District seat Democrat Rep. Harold Naughton, of Clinton, is leaving after taking a job at a New York law firm, the outlet reports. Lyons said Republicans are also focusing on races against Kingston Rep. Kathleen LaNatra, Pembroke Rep. Josh Cutler, and Gardner Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik.

“I’m not going to invest a lot of time and effort in Cambridge and Somerville,” Lyons told the news service. “We will support candidates who want to run in those areas, but we believe there are opportunities in certain parts of the state and we think the message of what we stand for, particularly on freedom, liberty, personal responsibility and free enterprise, is one voters want to hear compared to where the radical Democrats are going.”

In the near future, on June 2, special elections will be held in the 3rd Bristol House District, where Taunton residents, Democrat Carol Doherty and Republican Kelly Dooner, are slated to compete, and in the 37th Middlesex House District, where Acton Democrat Danillo Sena and Lunenburg Republican Catherine Clark are both on the ballot.

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Down the line, with Moran’s seat up for a full, two-year term this fall, it’s possible Moran and McMahon could compete at the ballot box again, should they weather any potential primary challengers.

Cain, coming off his loss in the the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District, told MassLive he is working on building his support for a win in the November election.

“More than ever we need someone with a business mindset to move our district forward,” Cain said. “I will continue to spread our message and regardless I will continue to advocate for the people of my communities.”

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