Since last November's losses at the ballot box, it's become somewhat of a contest on the right to see who can issue the most depressing predictions about the death of the Republican party. Changing demographics! The messaging is awful! Our technology is outdated!
It's frustrating to watch. People who I know are positive in most other areas of their lives, become so negative when talking about the state of conservatism that they make Eeyore look like an optimist.
Well, here's a little glimmer of hope: Republicans are finding ways to win in Massachusetts.
Wait, Massachusetts? The People's Republic of Massachusetts? Taxachusetts? Seriously? Seriously?!
Yes, seriously. A 24 year old named Leah Cole from Peabody was just elected in a special election to the Massachusetts State House last night. (Red Mass Group has more here, and a video from Cole's victory party here.)
The 12th Essex District is not a Republican district, and Cole was running against two much more established and well-known candidates. The Peabody Patch was running out of ways to call Cole's victory surprising: "a shocking outcome," "a longshot candidate," "a major upset," "surprising to locals on all sides," etc.
Naysayers will point out that the Democrat and unenrolled candidate split the vote, but still, for an unknown, lesser funded candidate to win in a district that hasn't been represented by a Republican in almost 25 years, is a reason for hope and rejoicing.
An important takeaway from Cole's victory is how it was a grassroots success, as Rob Eno wrote at Red Mass Group:
This victory saw multiple "factions" of the party come together to elect our party's nominee. Brad Wyatt and the Liberty Caucus lead the way, as Leah got active because of Ron Paul's campaign. RMG Editor Paul Ferro and his Marlborough Republican City Committee were early supporters of Ms. Cole. Numerous State Representatives gave their money and their time to the Cole effort, including the House Leadership PAC. The Republican Party paid for mailers, the campaign office, and helped with data. Everybody came together to make this happen.
Republicans in Massachusetts are significantly outnumbered in virtually every town, every precinct, across the state. The Bay State's Congressional delegation is 100% Democrats, and the State Legislature is dominated by Democrats in both houses. However, look what local Republicans were able to do here: unite behind a candidate, get the boots-on-the-ground needed to personally connect with voters, and bring enough financial resources to create the infrastructure, manage the data, and send mailers to turn out the vote.
Also important: this victory was the result of hard work by not just Republicans in Cole's district, but the surrounding area and the state party as well. A larger group of Republicans joined together, and that's something that needs to happen much more.
For the Republican Party to succeed in Massachusetts, the RTCs need to die, and be replaced with county parties. That's right, kill 'em off completely. There is nothing that an RTC does that can't be handled better, more efficiently, and with greater impact at the county level.
Especially as the minority party in a state like Massachusetts, there is something to be said for "strength in numbers," and having a larger group of Republicans in the room at monthly meetings will encourage the existing members, as well as make it easier to recruit new ones. Members won't have to drive much further, but will enjoy the benefits of having a larger local party organization. Also, a single RTC is unlikely to be able to afford permanent office space, and the MassVictory offices are only open for a few months right before elections. Organizing at the county level makes it easier to afford a permanent space in the local community, further facilitating voter outreach and new member recruitment.
I've seen firsthand what these county parties are able to accomplish in Florida and now Texas. While both states are more red than Massachusetts, the benefits to organizing this way are clear. The foundation of Cole's success was the large number of Republicans who formed the grassroots network that turned out the vote for her. As I said, that wasn't just Peabody Republicans, Cole's supporters came from a much wider area. Why not organize the party in a way that facilitates that for future candidates? An additional benefit for candidates is that they can attend a few county party meetings and reach all their constituents, instead of dozens of RTC meetings.
Lessons learned from Cole's race can be applied to the special election to fill John Kerry's Senate seat, and to the upcoming 2014 elections. Last night was a great first step to turning Massachusetts red. Hopefully the hardworking Massachusetts Republicans will continue to take steps forward as we approach 2014 and 2016.
On that note: today, Boston talk radio host Michael Graham is leading a symposium today with some other great Massachusetts Republicans as panelists on the topic of "How to Save the Massachusetts GOP." Information and a link to listen live available here.
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