Seats Challenged by Republicans

Why 2014 Will Be A Bad Year for Rhode Island’s Republicans

Every year, the refrain from Republicans is that voters who reflexively cast ballots for the Democrats don’t give them a chance. Well, in 2014 the rejoinder will be that it’s because they never had an opportunity.

It’s their fewest contested seats ever.

The data from the Secretary of State on filings of candidacy is incomplete and suspect at time of writing, but I’m going to assume that they aren’t missing a staggering amount of candidates. This allows me to make a projected number of how many seats in the General Assembly will have contests this year. What’s coming through pretty starkly is that the Republican Party is contesting the fewest amount of seats ever under the downsized General Assembly.

With just around 36 seats contested, this does not bode well for Republicans. Since 2002, when the smaller Assembly began, Republicans’ most victories were in the early to middle parts of that decade, with their best showing in 2004 – contesting 78 seats and winning 20. Their low point was in 2008, when close to half of their caucus was wiped out.

Seats Challenged by Republicans
(via Samuel G. Howard)

It’s a midterm election.

Normally, a midterm election would be a boon to Republicans. 2010 demonstrated that contesting a large number of seats could net victories when combined with a low turnout (especially in a year where Republicans were motivated and Democrats demoralized). Contesting 75 seats, they won 17, replacing virtually every Republican lost in 2008. It would’ve been a good foundation to build upon, had Chairman Mark Zaccaria not gone for what he called “quality over quantity” and had only 56 seats contested, which combined with the Obama reelection campaign to net Republicans just 11 seats, their second-worst showing.

Somehow, new RIGOP Chairman Mark Smiley has managed to do even worse than Zaccaria. 36 candidates is small enough that even if the Republicans managed to win every race they contested, they still could not end Democratic supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Republicans may be more vulnerable then they know.

The dire straits the Republicans find themselves in are even worse than it appears in just the numbers. Democrats have increased the number of seats they contest in recent years, and are contesting their highest amount of seats this year (110), leaving only Sens. Ottiano and Algiere and Rep. Trillo without a Democratic opponent. Of those three, Algiere and Trillo have no opponents whatsoever. Trillo has not faced an opponent since 2002. While that may be good news for the Republicans today, it may be bad news for them down the line if either man moves on – theoretically those could be Democratic pick-ups in the future.

Algiere and Trillo have reliably Democratic districts precisely because they’ve benefited from absolutely no challenge for a number of cycles. While the Democratic Party may know the makeup thanks to NGP VAN (its voter database), as far as I know, Republican campaigns aren’t sharing that information with each other. In 2012, Barack Obama carried all but one precinct in each of the Republicans’ districts.

Some Republicans are avoiding the GOP label.

Take the example of Luis Vargas in District 12. Vargas is the RIGOP’s “Director of Strategic Initiatives” but instead of running under the Republican banner, he’s chosen to be an independent. While that might have been the smart move for Vargas (and any other candidate doing the same), it’s terrible for the Republican Party (although it’s still highly unlikely he’ll defeat sitting Rep. Almeida – close to three-fourths of voters voted in the Democratic primary in 2010). Republicans need candidates under their banner, not Republicans masquerading as independents.

Republicans need many faces to convince Rhode Islanders that they’re a different breed from those in Washington, D.C. Without that, RI Republicans will continue to be defined by the national party, a huge turnoff to Rhode Islanders.

Providence may cause problems for their gubernatorial candidate.

It’s possible that the mayoral race in Providence will cause a much larger turnout than had been anticipated. It previously looked like the Democratic primary would be the deciding factor in the race, and whoever the nominee is was going to go on to another 80+ point win. That’s not so clear now (though I’m gambling on Democratic plurality). A large Providence turnout won’t matter so much for Assembly candidates, but it could cause havoc for the Republican nominee for governor. Providence numbers need to be depressed for them to have a good shot.

Republicans don’t have the initiative.

To get stronger, Republicans need to be increasing their numbers, not decreasing. What this amounts to is that Republicans are fighting a holding action against an ever-stronger Democratic wave. And they’re failing. Except for their unopposed candidates, Republicans incumbents tend to run close races, at least when compared with their Democratic colleagues. And since in the past six election cycles Republicans have won an average of 23% of the seats they contest, it’s possible the 11 member caucus could shrink to single digits; as low as 8 or 9.


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