NEWTON — The mixed results for Massachusetts Republicans on Election Day were on full display yesterday as the party's leadership applauded their first legislative gains in 20 years while fielding calls to oust Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Nassour for presiding over a drubbing by Democrats in every statewide and Congressional contest.
Nassour, speaking to the first post-election gathering of the Republican Party's 80-member State Committee at the Newton Marriott, fended off an effort by committee member Bill McCarthy to remove her from her post, ruling his motion out of order and cutting off debate without a vote. McCarthy had been calling to remove Nassour for days, arguing that her electoral strategy focused singularly on electing Republicans in high-profile races and ignoring down-ballot contests.
Republicans gained 16 seats in the Massachusetts House, their first net increase in 20 years, but the gains could have been greater, McCarthy argued, had the party focused more resources on its legislative prospects.
McCarthy's move to topple Nassour, coming just two months before she is scheduled to run for reelection as party chair, was met quickly with opposition from within the party.
"I personally do not believe that the chairwoman has done anything of malfeasance, nonfeasance, misfeasance," said committee member Ricardo Barros, to loud applause that brought Nassour to a smile.
"We didn't need a sucker punch from within," added Brock Cordeiro, another committee member.
Although McCarthy's move fizzled, the tense and sometimes pointed debate underscored division within the party, frustrated by an inability to make statewide and Congressional gains despite a Republican resurgence around the country. Nassour told reporters she isn't the one to blame.
"First of all, I'm not in charge of all 139 races," she said, referring to the number of contests Republicans ran in this year. "Each of the 80 members here, each of the state committee members ... are also responsible for the wins, the victories or the ones that haven't won in their districts. And so, it's up to all of us to participate in the election process. It's up to all of us to develop the ground game."
Nassour, who plans to seek reelection to her post in January, also defended the party against charges that legislative candidates received inadequate financial support.
"What happened to our commitment to our candidates?" asked state committee member Mike Potaski.
Nassour rejected the criticism and said each of the 108 Republicans who ran in the general election for the Legislature received candidate training and access to party press releases. Many received mailings, she said, and absentee ballots were mailed to every registered Republican in the state.
Nassour said she contributed her own money to Republicans Kimberly Roy - who lost - and Ryan Fattman - who defeated Democratic incumbent Jennifer Callahan. Nassour said she was able to "secure Governor [Paul] Cellucci to do two events" for Fattman, and that Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker had campaigned for him as well.
Republican leaders, still smarting from an Election Day sweep in bids for statewide and Congressional offices, said success could be measured by more than just wins at the ballot box. Even in races they lost, Nassour said, national and state Democrats were forced to shell out funds in districts long considered safe territory.
"I don't think anyone ever thought it was going to take one election cycle," Nassour said. "We made good solid gains this year, ones we should all be incredibly proud of."
Party officials urged candidates who ran and lost to consider trying again in 2012. Nassour pointed to Govs. William Weld and Mitt Romney, who each lost elections in Massachusetts before going on to the Corner Office.
Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, a Republican reelected to a third term this month, urged state committee members to focus their ire away from party leaders, saying the message carried by candidates for office matters more than the funds provided by the party. Hodgson beat Rep. John Quinn (D-Dartmouth), a veteran legislator who received a large infusion of funds from the Democratic Party in the final weeks of the race.
"The most important thing we need to do is stand united," he said. "My opponent in my race was a well-entrenched Democrat, 17 years in the Legislature. That state committee for the Democrats dumped in $24,000 just in October alone. It isn't about the state committee, when it comes to money. Candidates need to make the relationships. If we can get the people at the local level. If we can get our elected officials ... to share those resources that we have and our contacts, we're going to build this party really fast."
The room was lined with Republican success stories, close calls and failed candidates. House Minority Leader Bradley Jones attended, and at least seven newly elected Republican House members dotted the crowded meeting room: Reps.-elect Marc Lombardo, Paul Adams, Steve Howitt, Steve Levy, Sheila Harrington, Geoff Diehl and Kevin Kuros. Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), a contender to lead the four-member minority party in the Senate, was also on hand. Other Republican candidates in attendance: Jim McKenna, who ran for attorney general; Congressional candidates Jon Golnik, Marty Lamb, Sam Meas, and Brian Herr; and unsuccessful legislative candidates Kim Roy, Sandi Martinez, Monica Medeiros and Brett Schetzsle.