As Tsongas bows out, does the GOP have a shot in the Third?

The Topline

Massachusetts Congresswoman Niki Tsongas announced yesterday she will not run again for the seat she has held since 2007. Past election results show her seat in the Third Congressional District may be less safe for Democrats than it first appears. Though Tsongas cruised to reelection in her own recent matchups, Charlie Baker won the district by 9 points in his 2014 election, one of several Republicans to fare well there recently. With voters in Tsongas’ district showing they are open to voting Republican, her retirement adds another layer of potential intrigue to the 2018 elections here in Massachusetts.

Even apart from Baker’s success, results in other recent statewide elections suggest the open seat in the Third could be the most attractive target for the GOP in a field of longshots. Gabriel Gomez won the Third narrowly during the 2013 special election that sent Ed Markey to the Senate. Markey won it in 2014, but squeaked by with less than a 2 point margin, making it his third worst district. Even Elizabeth Warren lost it narrowly to Scott Brown in 2012, a year with presidential turnout. Both Baker and Warren will be on the ballot again next year, so their influence may shape the race in terms of turnout and the key issues of the campaign.

The Cook Political Report has declined to move the seat from its “safe D” column, underscoring the challenge facing a would-be Republican candidate. Tsongas won reelection in 2016 by 38 points, outperforming Hillary Clinton’s healthy 23-point margin there. Midterm elections tend to favor the party out of power, and Democrats have held strong leads in generic Congressional ballots going into 2018.

The Tsongas announcement has lit the political hot stove, or turned on the air conditioner, if that’s the more seasonally appropriate metaphor. Which state legislators would be willing to risk their current seats to run for a seat in a legislative body with a 16 percent approval rating? Who would trade the lack of friction in the private sector for gridlock in Washington? Nobody knows for sure, but the Beacon Hill rumor mill is churning out names faster than we can write them down.

With Tsongas leaving, there is a chance that Massachusetts’ female representation in Congress could dip even lower. Currently, it stands at an all-time high of three members (Tsongas, Warren, and Katherine Clark in the Fifth). Democrats may feel pressure to nominate a woman to carry on where Tsongas left off.

We agree with the Cook political report that early odds are the Third will remain in Democratic hands, continuing their streak of 110 Massachusetts Congressional elections since 1996 (Senate excluded). But recent elections suggest the right candidate, seizing on the right issues, could make it an interesting race.

The Crosstabs

A new poll out today is stirring controversy. Two researchers writing for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog found that half of Republican voters would support President Trump postponing the 2020 election over concerns about voter fraud. A similar percentage think Trump won the popular vote. (He did not.)

Monkey Cage has a good reputation for wonky social science research, but critics have noted that preceding questions about voter fraud may have “primed” respondents to answer the way their did.

Read more on MPG…

Meet The Authors

Rich Parr

Senior Research Director, The MassINC Polling Group

Steve Koczela

President, The MassINC Polling Group

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