Analysis: Leg Two of the Special State Senate Sprint…
Marching on to November 5, the election to fill Mike Knapik’s Senate seat will feature Republican Westfield Representative Don Humason and Democrat David Bartley, a Holyoke ward Councilor. Humason thumped Mike Franco, a Republican perennial candidate from Holyoke. Bartley succeeded on a four point spread, but with less than 250 raw votes more than outgoing Easthampton mayor Mike Tautznik.
Humason’s victory is hardly a surprise, but was its margin was probably driven by the short election calendar as much as his commanding margin in his hometown. Although Humason is considered pretty conservative, he has never been pegged as an ideological extremist. Therefore, it would have been possible for a tea party conservative to rally and win the nomination in a longer election calendar. The shorter timeframe essentially denied such a scenario.
The Democratic results were much closer, although a Bartley win is not a shock. More Democratic primary ballots were cast likely because the primary was long seen as much more competitive than the Republicans’ race. That higher number of Democratic ballots cast is probably some of the best news, other than outright victory, that Bartley got Tuesday.
Despite support from high profile figures like former Holyoke Mayor Martin Dunn and Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe, it may not have been either of them that secured victory. Rather, it may have been former Agawam Representative Rosemary Sandlin, whose support undoubtedly helped Bartley score a solid win in her town. The endorsement of former senator Linda Melconian, whose district then included Agawam, may have helped too.
Everywhere else, the race was running pretty even. Although more voters showed up in Holyoke than Easthampton, the turnout rate was much lower in the Paper City. Consequently, despite Holyoke being nearly two and a half times Easthampton’s size, Bartley only netted 100 more votes in his hometown than Tautznik did in his.
In a district such as this, the best electorate for Democrats is poised to come out in regularly scheduled elections in even years. Democrats tucked away in Westfield and throughout Holyoke peak in those elections. Incumbency can blunt this. Therefore, that, along with Mike Knapik’s moderate stance on issues, left the former senator unopposed cycle after cycle. Therefore, Knapik did do Republicans a favor by leaving his successor to nab the seat in a low-turnout special.
One other side effect of Knapik’s timing was that it sidelined much of the Democrats’ bench across the district since they were tied up in municipal races. Whether this was intentional or not, it clearly benefited Humason who had no such municipal election to consider. However, the decision of the legislature and Secretary of State Bill Galvin to schedule the general election on the same day municipal election day may prove to help Democrats…to a point.
Having the special election on a regularly scheduled municipal election will undoubtedly yield greater turnout than a special general election in December, as had been originally expected. Add to that competitive mayoral races in Democratic strongholds like Easthampton and Holyoke, and turnout could pop up a bit more. The higher the turnout, the better for the Democrats…again to a point. Westfield has a competitive election too, which could boosts turnout for Humason.
Despite Westfield having a rich history of Democrats and a lot of potential for the party in the long run, the city seems likely to go for Humason—hard. There just is not enough time in this election schedule to peel the Whip City away from its loyalty to its long-time state rep. The scrutiny of Humason’s record, particularly in the context of municipal, rather than statewide elections, will not be drawn out long enough to dislodge support form Humason. There are votes for the Democratic nominee worth fighting for, as Tautznik’s slight victory here suggests, but not as many as in a gubernatorial or presidential year.
The Daily Hampshire Gazette‘s report of Bartley’s opening salvo may not help given Humason’s penchant for retail politics. While Humason called Bartley a friend, the Holyoke councilor immediately tied Humason to the tea party. The tea party and Humason may agree on some, indeed maybe many things, but he disavows a connection. The rep lacks the angry, petulent tone and demeanor of the radical conservative movement. Making a direct link would be helpful to Dems, but very tough absent a mailer featuring the jovial Westfield state rep and the US Senate’s famous toxic Texas tea partier, Ted Cruz. That said, an extended government shutdown hurts Humason without a doubt.
Westfield is unlikely turn on Humason, at least not before November. But that city, and its more conservative suburbs can be cancelled out by Holyoke and Easthampton together. That’s part of why Bartley, Tautznik and outgoing state party chair John Walsh held a unity event in Westfield Wednesday morning: to project confidence in their bases and spread out from there. If that unity holds, the general election’s battle lines will be where the Democratic primary was ultimately fought: Agawam and the Chicopee precincts.
Part of the theory behind Bartley’s candidacy was that he had less of a reputation for liberalism than Tautznik. But that comes with a risk. It distinguishes Bartley less from Humason and the issues where the rep may be most out of step with the more diverse senate district’s voters.
The district is eminently winnable by either Humason or Bartley under this special election’s conditions. It is not a walk for either, though. Humason has to stay on message and keep to a minimum whatever daylight he and Mike Knapik had over the last decade. In other words, if Humason is pegged as anything other than a “Knapik Republican,” he probably cannot win. Bartley, at the same time, will need to make it clear to voters that more distinguishes him from Humason than party affiliation and a family name. It may be a special election, but syncing with a regular election, if a municipal one, means not just party loyalists will turn out.