After years of favoring Democrats, New England voters are taking a closer look at Republican candidates in several congressional and gubernatorial races as they sour on President Biden and Democratic policies blamed for high energy and grocery prices.
House races in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine are considered competitive for Republicans, and the GOP is also targeting incumbent Senate Democrat Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire as well as Democratic incumbent Gov. Janet Mills in Maine.
If the GOP wins just one House district, it will restore a Republican congressional seat in New England for the first time in four years.
There are currently no House Republicans from New England and only one senator: Susan Collins of Maine.
“It’s been a long time since Republicans were on the march in New England, but this year is different,” Nathan Gonzalez, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Inside Elections, told the Washington Times. “Republicans have an opportunity to pick up a handful of seats including one each in Rhode Island and Connecticut and pair in New Hampshire.”
A few more Republican victories in November would establish the largest congressional GOP footprint in New England in nearly two decades.
Republicans are eyeing this now-traditional blue territory as polls suggest a red wave is coming in the midterm elections that could penetrate deep into Biden territory.
The most promising pick-up for the GOP may be in Rhode Island, where Republican Allen Fung is leading Democrat Seth Magaziner in the race to fill the state’s 2nd District seat.
Democrat Jim Langevin has represented the district for two decades and is retiring. Mr. Magaziner, his hoped-for Democratic successor, has not been able to gain traction against Mr. Fung, the popular former longtime mayor of Cranston.
A recent poll conducted by Suffolk University for the Boston Globe showed Mr. Fung leading Mr. Magaziner by 7 points, although 13% were undecided.
David Paleologos, Suffolk’s pollster, told The Times Mr. Fung has benefited from independents, who are swinging strongly in his direction.
“Independents are upset about the economy,” Mr. Paleologos said. Mr. Magaziner, Rhode Island’s treasurer, also lacks robust Democratic support compared to Mr. Fung’s strong backing from GOP voters. In the Suffolk/Boston Globe poll, Mr. Fung picked up support from 9% of Democrats.
It’s single-digit support, but it all adds up — for Mr. Fung.
“Fung’s popularity is a constant,” Mr. Paleologos said.
In New Hampshire, Republicans believe they can pull off a trifecta and win in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts, as well as pick up the Senate seat on the ballot next month.
In the 1st District, Democratic incumbent Rep. Chris Pappas faces Republican challenger Karoline Leavitt. The two debated inflation and energy prices in Concord last week.
“Mr. Pappas just bragged about depleting our emergency reserves that are supposed to be there for wartime not to lower prices before an election. That is shameful. I’m sorry, that’s a short-term gimmick,” Mr. Leavitt said in a jab about Mr. Biden’s massive drawdown from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try to lower gasoline prices.
An AARP poll released this month showed Mr. Pappas tied with Ms. Leavitt 48% to 47%.
In the Granite State’s 2nd District, Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster was leading GOP challenger Robert Burns by 10 points in an AARP poll, but analysts have continued to rank the race as a possible GOP pickup thanks to Mr. Biden’s unpopularity in the state.
An Oct. 6 poll of likely voters, also sponsored by the AARP, found Ms. Hassan leading Republican challenger Don Bolduc by seven points in the Senate race, which the GOP considers striking distance.
Rep. Frank Guinta, who was defeated in 2016, was the last Republican to serve in the U.S. House. Kelly Ayotte, the last New Hampshire Republican in the U.S. Senate, was also defeated in 2016.
In Connecticut’s 5th District, analysts say Republican George Logan stands a chance of beating Democratic incumbent Rep. Jahana Hayes. The two were tied in a late summer poll but Ms. Hayes has pulled ahead by a few points. In Maine, the race to fill the 2nd District seat is a toss-up between Democratic Rep. Jared Golden and Republican Bruce Poliquin, who lost the seat in 2018, leaving the House GOP with no New England representation.
New Englanders will go to the polls just as they begin to crank up much more expensive heating in their homes. Polling shows voters blame higher energy prices on the Biden administration.
In Rhode Island, more than one-third of all homes are heated with oil and propane, which have skyrocketed in price.
Rhode Island Republican Party Executive Director Jesus Solorio said Mr. Fung’s popularity and discontent over high energy prices and inflation have put the momentum squarely on the side of Republicans, even in a state that typically votes overwhelmingly for Democrats.
“People have buyer’s remorse,” he said.