RI Republicans share painful election with Mass., Calif. GOPs

Rhode Island’s Republican Party took it on the chin last month, once again failing to win a single federal or statewide office and managing to lose seven of their 18 seats in the General Assembly. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise, since just 10% of Rhode Island voters are registered Republicans.

If it’s any consolation, Rhode Island Republicans aren’t alone in their troubles – at least two other state GOPs are reeling in the aftermath of this year’s voting. The Boston Phoenix’s David Bernstein reports on the Massachusetts Republican Party’s problems:

But this year, there’s something different about the postmortems, in the wake of Scott Brown’s eight-point loss for re-election to the US Senate and Richard Tisei’s narrow defeat to Congressman John Tierney.

This time, it’s GOP insiders and officeholders in the state suggesting that their cause is hopeless — that their numerical and institutional disadvantages just might mean that they simply cannot win, beyond a small smattering of state legislative districts and countywide law-enforcement positions. …

The defeatism within the party suggests that top-flight candidates might be hard to recruit. If so, the Democrats’ stranglehold on the state will only tighten. And we will look back at 2012 as the year the MassGOP surrendered.

On the West Coast, Politico’s Charlie Mahtesian reports on the California Republican Party’s drubbing:

Just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse for Republicans in California, it appears they did. And at the congressional level, there are still three uncalled House races where GOP incumbents are trailing their Democratic challengers with 100 percent of the votes in. …

The presidential exit polls paint an especially grim picture that suggests the state won’t be competitive in any way for a long time. Obama won every income group, every education group, big and small cities, suburbs and independents.

One point that stands out in all three cases is that the occasional election of a prominent Republican officeholder isn’t necessarily a signal that the state party’s long-term prospects are improving.

In Massachusetts, Republicans held the governor’s office from 1991 to 2007, and they rocked Washington in 2010 by getting Scott Brown elected to Ted Kennedy’s old seat. In California, Republicans still hold a number of the state’s congressional seats and had the governor’s office until last year. And in Rhode Island, a Republican was governor from 1995 to 2011. But it doesn’t appear that translated into a broader GOP revival.

It’s tempting to say top Republicans need to focus more on party-building efforts when they get into power – but even that doesn’t always work, as Mitt Romney discovered in 2004 when he tried to elect more Republicans to Beacon Hill. Plus, how much can a local party do if the national GOP brand remains unpopular?

All that said, while local Republicans’ problems are acute, the party’s situation nationally isn’t nearly as dire as some have suggested, as RealClearPolitics’ Sean Trende explains:

Republicans are still almost at a postwar high in the House of Representatives, with only 1946 and 2010 resulting in a larger share of the chamber going Republican. …

The Senate picture does show some signs of decline for Republicans, although it is still nowhere near the depths it plumbed from the late 1950s through the early 1970s. …

Republicans have steadily increased the number of governorships they have held since their debacle in the mid-1970s. …

What about state legislatures? Once again, Republicans are near postwar highs; the same is true if you look at the number of individual statehouse seats held by the party. …

These last two data points are especially important for the Republicans, since governorships and statehouse seats represent the “farm teams” for statewide and national office.

Perhaps all the more reason, then, for the GOP to shrug about Rhode Island, Massachusetts and California.

• Related: Study: RI’s swing voters make it ‘most elastic state’ in the US (June 21)

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