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Can Republicans make up any ground in New England in 2020?

Simone Pathe, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The prospects for a Republican rebirth in New England in 2020 are dim.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the only New England Republican left in Congress, is likely facing her most competitive re-election next year.

She doesn't have an opponent yet, but even if she survives, there are few opportunities for her party to make gains. In neighboring New Hampshire, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen could be a top GOP Senate target in a state Hillary Clinton carried by less than half a point, but she doesn't have an obvious challenger.

Democrats control all 21 of the region's House districts. Only two present realistic pickup opportunities for Republicans, and in a presidential year, both start out leaning toward Democrats.

The GOP has been here before. When Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays lost in 2008, the New England delegation to the House turned all-Democratic. Republicans have climbed back since then. But it didn't last long.

The House lost its last Republican from New England last fall when Maine Democrat Jared Golden defeated two-term Rep. Bruce Poliquin in the country's first use of ranked-choice voting for a House race.

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Two years earlier, Democrats unseated the only other New England Republican in the House, Frank C. Guinta, who represented a perpetual New Hampshire swing district. He had narrowly survived a competitive primary after battling a campaign finance and ethics scandal.

The slow death of New England Republicans in Congress predates President Donald Trump -- although he hasn't done much to win over the moderates who used to vote for the party. Their demise is a longtime symptom of the increasing polarization of national politics.

Republicans aren't dead at the state level in New England. Half of the region's states have GOP governors, who have room to distance themselves from the national party.

While New England Republicans are often thought of as moderates, that's hardly the case when it comes to their primary voters, whom GOP strategist Ryan Williams called "as conservative as anyone else." Williams worked for former Massachusetts Gov. (and current Utah Sen.) Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign and former New Hampshire Sen. John E. Sununu's 2008 re-election.

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