BOSTON (SHNS) – There are 50 contested races among the 200 legislative districts on the ballot Tuesday, with Republicans facing headwinds from a strong anti-Trump voted expected in Massachusetts and hoping to stem the tide of losses they absorbed during special elections this year.
The numbers show a widespread lack of interest in serving on Beacon Hill, where Democrats have held supermajorities in both branches for nearly three decades, and there are some energized races to be settled.
Most of the action is in House districts, where 34 incumbents face challengers and candidates are competing for eight open seats, in addition to the seven open seats settled during the Sept. 1 primaries.
Two of the eight open seats are held by outgoing Republicans, Reps. Randy Hunt of Sandwich and Elizabeth Poirier of North Attleborough. Five are represented by retiring Democrats: Reps. Jose Tosado of Springfield, Thomas Petrolati of Ludlow, Stephan Hay of Fitchburg, Theodore Speliotis of Danvers and Harold Naughton of Worcester.
The eighth open House seat is currently vacant after former Democrat Rep. John Velis of Westfield won a special election to the Senate in May.
There are contested races in eight of the 40 Senate districts and no open Senate seats. Democrats snatched two GOP Senate seats in special elections, and Republicans currently represent only four districts.
In the House, Democrats hold 127 of 160 seats, while Republicans hold 31. One district is represented by an independent lawmaker, while one remains vacant.
Here’s a look at some races to keep an eye on:
— Three Senate Republicans Challenged: Democrats reduced the six-man Senate GOP caucus to four this year after two Republican senators left for other opportunities and Democrats picked up their seats in a pair of May special elections. Of the remaining Republicans, only Minority Leader Bruce Tarr is running unopposed. Sutton Republican Sen. Ryan Fattman faces a challenge from Milford Democrat Christine Crean, a social worker. On the South Shore, Cohasset Democrat Meg Wheeler is challenging Sen. Patrick O’Connor, a Weymouth Republican. And in north central Massachusetts, voters will decide between Fitchburg Republican Sen. Dean Tran and Lunenburg Democrat John Cronin. Before Tran, who came to America as a refugee and is the state’s first Vietnamese-American senator, was elected in a 2017 special election, Democrats had held the seat since 1993. A late March report from the Senate Ethics Committee — which Tran derided as a politically motivated attack — found that his office staff had been improperly engaged in campaign work during business hours, leading to his removal from the post of assistant minority whip. Cronin, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and is completing a law degree at Suffolk University, is running with the backing of a host of local Democrats, including U.S. Reps. Lori Trahan and Jim McGovern, outgoing state Reps. Stephan Hay and Harold Naughton, and Jennifer Flanagan, whose resignation for a seat on the Cannabis Control Commission cleared the way for Tran to join the Senate. Both campaigns have reported spending notable amounts — Cronin reported spending more than $27,000 in September alone, and Tran more than $40,000, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
— GOP Active in Coastal Competition South of Boston: Ever since he won his seat in 2012, barely an election goes by without Democrats casting a nervous eye toward Rep. Josh Cutler and the Sixth Plymouth District. The South Shore district was held by Republican Dan Webster before Cutler won it for the Democrats, and he’s had to fight to keep it ever since. After his first win in 2012 by 10 points, his margin of victory in the Duxbury-Hanson-Pembroke district narrowed to eight points in his 2014 race against Republican Joseph Sheehan. He had an easier time two years later, and ran unopposed in 2018, but Republicans are again hoping to retake the seat. Cutler, now of Pembroke, is running against Tatyana Medvedev Semyrog of his former hometown Duxbury. A widow and mother of three, Semyrog is touting support from police and pointing to her work in a number of Congressional offices, including former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s office. Cutler’s district is one in a corridor along the South Shore where competition for legislative seats is running hot. Rep. Kathy LaNatra of Kingston is running for a second term after winning in 2018 with just over 52 percent of the vote. She’s up against Republican Summer Schmaling, a biology researcher from Halifax who has studied arsenic in drinking water and the influenza. First-term Rep. Patrick Kearney of Scituate also has a Republican challenger, Craig Valdez, with competitive Senate races from Weymouth to Falmouth helping to stir up voter interest along the entire coast. Republicans have controlled a few districts on Cape Cod and in Plymouth County, and they are trying to stitch together more red districts leading up the South Shore coast toward the district represented by Republican Rep. David DeCoste of Norwell. To do so, they’ll need to hold the district that Sandwich Republican Rep. Randy Hunt is giving up. Republican Steven Xiarhos of Barnstable is competing against Democrat James Dever of Sandwich in that race for the First Barnstable District.
— Sen. Rausch v. Matt Kelly: Voters in the Senate district that snakes from Wayland down into Attleboro have a choice between Franklin Republican Matt Kelly, in his first campaign for state-level office, and Needham Democrat Sen. Becca Rausch, who herself unseated a Republican two years ago. This is the district that former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown represented when he served in the state Senate. Rausch turned the Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex District blue when she defeated Brown’s successor, former Republican Sen. Richard Ross of Wrentham, by about 2,000 votes in 2018 to become just the second Democrat to represent the district – the other was Cheryl Jacques. Before running for Senate, Rausch worked as a health care attorney in the Patrick and Baker administrations and had been elected as a member of Needham Town Meeting. For the last 12 years, Kelly has served in elected roles on the Town Council and School Committee in Franklin, where he has lived since the early 1990s and where he operates a real estate business. When he announced his first run for state-level office earlier this year, Kelly said that “the majority of voters in this district are fed up with narrow agendas and a lack of concern for the bread-and-butter issues that each of our community’s face.”
— North Attleborough Councilors Square Off: Two North Attleborough Town Council members are running to replace retiring Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, the second assistant minority leader. Republican John Simmons is hoping to keep the district that includes all of North Attleborough and parts of Mansfield and Attleboro red with the backing of Poirier and Gov. Charlie Baker. Simmons got into the race late, in early September, after another Republican hopeful backed out. A North Attleborough native, Simmons is a lawyer, Boy Scout leader and youth sports coach. He has served as a member of the town’s elected Representative Town Meeting and Election Commission, and serves on the first Town Council since the town changed its form of government. Democrat Adam Scanlon is hoping to win the 14th Bristol District for the Democrats with the backing of outgoing Congressman Joseph Kennedy III and former Gov. Michael Dukakis. Before being elected to the Town Council, Scanlon served on the town’s School Committee. He says he currently works for “a social services organization that assists economically disadvantaged citizens with job placement” and is pursuing a master’s degree from Northeastern University. 2021 will be the first time the 14th Bristol District is represented by anyone other than a Poirier since Gerald Ford was in the White House. Elizabeth Poirier was elected in a 1999 special election to succeed her husband, Kevin, who had represented the district in the Massachusetts House since his first election in 1976.
— The Battle of Westfield: The more than 41,000 residents of Westfield have had no representation in the Massachusetts House since May, when former Rep. John Velis, a Democrat, won a special election to fill a Senate seat. Voters will choose whether to fill that vacuum with Democrat Matt Garlo, Republican Kelly Pease or Independent Compassionate Conservative Ethan Flaherty. Pease, a retired Army officer and former Chester selectman, has experience on Beacon Hill already, spending a year as a legislative aide for former Sen. Donald Humason. Pease describes himself as “a conservative who believes that government shouldn’t just continue to raise taxes but should stay within their budget like every working family” and a Second Amendment supporter. Garlo studied political science, sociology and pre-law at Siena College, where he earned a degree in May 2019, and is running his first-ever campaign on a platform including securing additional funding for schools and state reimbursement for contaminated water treatment. Although Garlo is a year removed from college, he is not the field’s youngest candidate: Flaherty is a recent high school graduate. Republicans will eye the Fourth Hampden District as a potential pickup — the GOP carried the district from 1978 to Velis’s first victory in 2014 with candidates like Humason, Cele Hahn, Michael Knapik and Steven Pierce, and even with Velis in office, it has leaned toward Republican candidates in other races.
— Warren-Backed Challenger Eyes House GOP Leader: The last time a Democrat ran against House Minority Leader Brad Jones, it was 2008, and Jones, who’s served in the House since 1995, handily won reelection with 71 percent of the vote. This year, Michelle Mullet’s bid against the longtime incumbent has attracted attention from outside their shared hometown of North Reading. Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia endorsed Mullet, as has U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who said Mullet would be the first woman and first Latina to represent the district and is “leading on progressive ideas that will bring about big change — like implementing a Massachusetts Green New Deal, protecting and expanding access to reproductive care, and ensuring campaign finance reform is a priority on Beacon Hill.” Jones is running with the backing of Gov. Charlie Baker, who said in an endorsement video that he wants to make sure voters know Jones has done “a terrific job representing the people of his district and the people of the commonwealth in his role as minority leader for as long as I’ve been in state government.” Despite Jones’ long tenure in the Legislature, Baker said he “fights with the enthusiasm of a newcomer” and called him “a problem-solver and a bipartisan operator at a time when we need much more of both.”
— Lyons Looms Over Nguyen v. Dufour Contest: Democrat Rep. Tram Nguyen of Andover faces a challenge in her first re-election campaign from political newcomer Jeff Dufour of Tewskbury. DuFour, a Republican who has spent his career in information systems and project management, is vying to flip the seat back to the GOP after Nguyen ousted four-term Rep. Jim Lyons by a nearly 10-point margin two years ago — a result that cleared the way for Lyons, a vocal Trump supporter and abortion opponent, to take the reins of the Massachusetts Republican Party. During her first term, Nguyen has joined in the push for natural gas safety in the wake of the 2018 Merrimack Valley explosions and for passage of the ROE Act, which would expand access to abortion. The state Democratic Party asked authorities for an investigation into a string of race-baiting robocalls in the district, which, according to a Boston Globe report, claimed to support Nguyen but misrepresented her positions, saying she supported defunding the police and “making white Americans pay tax reparations.”
— Four Special Election Rematches: The four newest members of the House and Senate face rematches against opponents they defeated in special elections earlier this year, with a much higher turnout looming as the major difference this time around. Candidates on both sides of the aisle will be relatively fresh in voters’ minds, having already campaigned in the spring, but the newly minted legislators have only a few months’ record that they can tout or their challengers can critique. In three of those races, Democrats — Sens. John Velis and Susan Moran and Rep. Carol Doherty — will be looking to hang on to formerly red seats they flipped and are now running with the advantages of incumbency. In the fourth, Acton Democrat Rep. Danillo Sena will go another round against Lunenburg Republican Catherine Clark, whom he defeated 74 percent to 26 percent in June. In Taunton, Doherty had topped Republican Kelly Dooner 57-43 for the House seat formerly held by Mayor Shaunna O’Connell, and on Cape Cod, Moran, a Falmouth Democrat, bested Bourne Republican Jay McMahon — a supporter of President Trump who ran for attorney general in 2018 — by a similar margin of 56-44. What’s now Moran’s seat has bounced between Democrats and Republicans, last held by Plymouth Republican Vinny deMacedo and before that by former Senate President Therese Murray, a Plymouth Democrat. Velis, a Westfield Democrat, had been serving as a state representative until he claimed the seat vacated by Westfield Mayor Donald Humason in a May special election by beating Southwick Republican John Cain 64-36.
— Indy Candidates Try to Make a Dent: Unenrolled voters are the largest voter group in Massachusetts, but only one of the 200 sitting state lawmakers is not enrolled in one of the two major parties. Rep. Susannah Whipps of Athol had been a Republican until 2017, when she switched to an independent, and she faces a challenge from Athol Democrat William LaRose on Tuesday. Six other races involve only a sitting Republican or Democrat and a single independent challenger: Democrat Sen. John Keenan of Quincy vs. independent candidate Alexander Mendez of Quincy; Democrat Rep. Thomas Stanley of Waltham vs. unenrolled candidate George Darcy of Waltham; Democrat Rep. Michael Day of Stoneham vs. non-party candidate Elizabeth Harrah of Winchester; Democrat Rep. Danielle Gregoire of Marlborough vs. independent candidate Syed Hashmi of Westborough; Democrat Rep. Jerald Parisella of Beverly vs. unenrolled independent candidate Euplio Marciano of Beverly; and Republican Rep. Paul Frost of Auburn vs. independent candidate Terry Dotson of Millbury.