PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — While it’s true Republican fortunes have been declining in Southern New England for decades, Tuesday’s GOP wipeout was still historic.
Democrats have now been elected to all 26 statewide and federal offices in Rhode Island and Massachusetts for what appears to be the first time in modern history. Moderate GOP outliers — such as Gov. Charlie Baker and his predecessors, or the late U.S. Sen. John Chafee — have steadily disappeared from the region in the years since Newt Gingrich helped cement conservative control of the party at the national level.
For local Republicans, there was disappointment up and down the ballot on Tuesday night.
The biggest blow by far came in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District, where Republicans had a rare opportunity to win a federal seat in relatively friendly territory. The usually fractious state GOP united around former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who received millions of dollars in support from outside groups. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy himself made the Rhode Island race a priority.
Yet for the third time in the last three midterm elections, Fung came up short. Democrat Seth Magaziner, the millennial general treasurer, squeaked by Fung to win a three-point victory. He beat Fung in Warwick and only narrowly lost on Fung’s home turf in Cranston, while running up the score in places like South Kingstown.
Fung had explicitly cast himself as an heir to the moderate New England Republicanism of Chafee, Baker and others. But in the end Magaziner convinced voters that Fung’s personal beliefs and affability mattered less than his membership in a party which secured the end of Roe vs. Wade and whose leader refused to accept the results of the last election.
Still, Fung at least kept things close. The same can’t be said for Republican gubernatorial nominee Ashley Kalus.
Kalus came out of nowhere to become the GOP’s statewide standard-bearer despite only recently arriving in Rhode Island after living in Florida and Illinois. She poured nearly $5 million of her own money into the race and campaigned hard for months, dismissing questions about her ties to the state or her past legal disputes.
But Kalus fundamentally misjudged the strength of Democratic incumbent Dan McKee, who was seeking a full term after succeeding to the governor’s office last year. McKee had barely survived a tough primary in September, but voters made clear Tuesday they were far more comfortable with him in charge than Kalus, as he won the biggest victory for a Rhode Island governor in 30 years.
GOP woes persisted across the border in Massachusetts, where Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson was one of the only prominent Bay State Republicans seen as having a strong shot to win Tuesday. Hodgson had support from Baker, who kept his distance from most other major Republican candidates, and was better known than his Democratic opponent, Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux.
But after 25 years as sheriff, Hodgson’s time was up. Heroux declared victory early Wednesday, winning a razor-thin victory that stood at 50.6% to 49.4% as of Wednesday evening, a margin of barely 2,000 votes.
Heroux was helped by Hodgson’s close alliance with Donald Trump as well as a major infusion of outside money from progressive groups seeking to oust the GOP sheriff. Hodgson was also weighed down by the weakness of the statewide GOP ticket; none of the party’s top nominees hit even 40% of the vote.
And all the defeats occurred despite Republicans’ hopes for a coast-to-coast “red wave,” when voters would take out their anger over high inflation at an unpopular president from the party that dominates government at all levels in New England. If there was a wave, it was bright blue.
There are still plenty of voters willing to vote for Republicans in both states: over 150,000 Rhode Islanders cast a ballot for GOP treasurer nominee James Lathrop, and over 875,000 voters in Massachusetts supported the party’s nominee for attorney general, James McMahon. But even Lathrop, the strongest statewide Republican nominee in either state, failed to crack 46%.
Ed Lyons, an outspoken moderate Republican in Massachusetts and Baker ally, argued Wednesday the 2022 results should be viewed in the context of a longer-term decline in the fortunes of both the Massachusetts GOP and the Rhode Island GOP.
“There was no shocking slaughter,” Lyons tweeted. “Feels like two species — who were endangered for a while as their environment and climate changed — finally went extinct. Because we don’t expect future winners.”
The silver lining for local Republicans: when it comes to the big races, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook