OK - can the Massachusetts Republican Party begin to make some sort of comeback in the 2010 election? The short answer (uncharacteristic for me to have a short answer) is maybe.
Yes, I know that is waffling, but we are still too far out from the 2010 election to go with anything more definitive than a 'maybe'. However, I will make some predictions that I reserve the right to amend at any point as conditions warrant.
Governor - I am sticking (so far) with my earlier posting's prediction that Governor Patrick has about a 70% chance for reelection assuming that he indeed runs. Late word is that he is signing the sales tax and other tax increases that he opposed a few short weeks ago. He has publicly changed his position given that the legislature has passed ethics and other reform legislation. Whether the voting public is convinced of this remains to be seen. This can break either way for him, but the Governor needs to be mindful that he is treading a knife's edge by signing a tax increase that his opponents are sure to use against him.
This leaves an opening for the Republican nominee - whomever he or she may be. Bottom line: if 2010 is a "change" election the Republican nominee has a shot at this. Gubernatorial reelections are usually referendums on the incumbent - this election will mostly be about Governor Patrick and whether or not the voters will hire him for another term.
The Republicans are likely going to have a primary fight. How contentious that fight is and whether the Mihos, Baker, and Brown supporters can unify after the primary remains to be seen. The danger is that a core of supporters of one candidate (yes I am thinking Mihos) may well sit out the election if their candidate is not the nominee. Mihos' independent run in 2006 certainly took votes away from Kerry Healy. I believe that state Republicans are holding their breath and are concerned that Mihos may do the same thing in 2010 if he does not win the nomination.
The wildcard as always are the independent voters. The Republican nominee needs to pick up over half of them and also some of the more conservative blue-collar Democrats to win. Patrick will likely receive the support of suburban liberals, minorities, human services advocates, and labor unions - all major political heavyweights in Massachusetts. The Republican nominee will need to be able to craft a coalition of support that will counter that powerful base that Patrick can count on.
If I were to advise the Republicans, I would say that Charlie Baker is probably the best candidate they can put forth. I would still bet against him winning given the nature of the Commonwealth, but he may be able to assemble a winning coalition if the conditions are just right. Senator Brown may have a chance as well. I simply cannot see Christy Mihos winning a general election, but if the wheels fall off of Patrick who knows?
Governor Patrick needs to play the anti-establishment outsider as much as he can, stay on message, and use the bully pulpit of his office. He has immense political skills and remains a very formidable force with very committed supporters.
State Legislature - there will probably be small gains for the Republicans, but I don't see a repeat of 1990 when there was substantial turnover unless state fiscal conditions deteriorate or more legislative scandals erupt. As I mentioned in my earlier posting it is just very difficult to unseat an incumbent legislator even under the best of circumstances so small gains would be the best Republicans can do this year. They need to be able to recruit candidates and also focus on winning local offices (Board of Selectman, Mayors, City Councilors, Dogcatcher, etc.) to build up a rooster of candidates with some political seasoning instead of putting up inexperienced candidates against entrenched incumbents as they too often do.
One last factor - will the state legislature approve additional tax increases in the next year? Usually legislative bodies are loathe to raise additional revenues in an election year, but the left wing of the Democratic Party continues to float an income tax increase to restore state funding deficiencies. There is still muted talk of a gas tax increase as well. If the Democrats overreach, it could blow up for them politically.
I plan to revisit these predictions on the 2010 elections in a few months. It is highly likely that I will look back on this post and think "Brad - I can't believe you missed this factor, it was so obvious!"
The next 16 months and five days promise to be a fun political ride! Onwards...