Tuesday, February 2, 2010

MA-10: It's a Race

Massachusetts State Representative Jeff Perry has declared his candidacy for Congressman from MA's 10th Congressional District, a seat currently held by Rep. Bill Delahunt (D). The 10th went overwhelmingly for Scott Brown in the recent special election, and Perry may hope that history repeats itself in November to propel him to Washington.

Perry seems to be aiming to capitalize on the reach and enthusiasm-generating power of online media, rolling out Twitter and Facebook feeds as well as a website for his campaign (Perry already has a YouTube channel). He's also hammering on the reform theme. In a statement released to the media, Perry claims that
“They [the people of MA-10] need someone who will stand up for the things they believe in and fight for action on issues like real health care reform without mandates, better job opportunities, checks on illegal immigration, national security, lower taxes and less national debt, and an end to the insider and special-interest dealing that permeates Capitol Hill. People across the South Shore, Cape Cod & the Islands are tired and frustrated with what they see as a system in Washington that’s broken and that’s incapable of progress on issues that matter to them. I want to be someone who changes that.”
The 10th is shaping up to be one of most hotly-contested Congressional races in Massachusetts. Two other Republicans, Ray Kasperowicz and Donald Hussey, have already thrown their hats into the primary ring. Former state treasurer Joe Malone and current state senator Bob Hedlund are also considering running for the seat (Malone seems more strongly inclined than Hedlund at the moment). So we could be looking at five Republicans facing off for the chance to run against an incumbent Democrat---in Massachusetts (cue strained expression of shock). If a high level of opposition interest is a sign of an incumbent's weakness, Bill Delahunt may be in for quite the fight in November. And if a race in New England can generate this much GOP interest, Democrats could find many unanticipated electoral battlefields across the country.

Of the three certain contenders, Perry has a number of strengths: he's been elected to a higher legislative office, has many institutional allies, and enjoys the reputation of being a principled but open-minded conservative. He also is willing to buck his party leadership, voting against the Massachusetts health-reform act of 2006, one of the few Republicans to do so. Malone and Hedlund would both bring their own strengths to the table. Malone probably has a higher name recognition (though this could be a double-edged sword), and Hedlund, a long-time veteran of the state legislature, has a considerable GOP network.

In this race, as in many others across the nation, GOP candidates will need to develop a narrative of reform. There are high levels of public alienation from what's going on in Washington, but there is also lingering public distrust of Republicanism. To some extent, a successful rebranding strategy for the GOP might involve a deescalation of partisan rhetoric. Individual Republican candidates will need to show that they are open-minded and willing to work cooperatively for real reform. At the same time, they can exploit public unhappiness with the Democratic status quo. Hopeful, reform-minded change could bring big wins for the GOP in 2010.

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