Sunday, November 09, 2008

Is Republicanism in New England Dead?

When I was growing up in Connecticut, my hometown was predominantly Republican, and the party itself was strong throughout New England. Now, it's influence is like a distant memory. What happened? This article from the AP has a look at that question with some possible explanations:

GOP a dying breed in New England
HARTFORD, Conn. – A generation ago the Republican Party was the dominant political force in New England, populating the region's congressional delegations with moderates like Connecticut's Lowell P. Weicker Jr. and Rhode Island's John Chafee.

But today's GOP, led by a more socially conservative wing of the party, is finding votes harder to come by.


New England's decision to "go the other way" in recent elections is a dramatic transformation for a region considered a Republican stronghold a generation ago.

The Republican Party and New England have a long history together.

At their first presidential convention, in 1856, Republicans nominated John C. Fremont on a platform of abolishing slavery in the territories — a widely held view in the North. While Fremont lost, he carried 11 Northern states. Later, Abraham Lincoln captured the presidency by winning 18 Northern states.

By the late 1940s, Republicans held 21 of 28 of New England's seats in the House of Representatives. But the turning point came in 1964, when the Republicans nominated conservative Barry Goldwater for president, said Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.

Known for being fiscally conservative but more socially liberal, Northeast moderates — dubbed the Rockefeller Republicans after the former New York governor — started to be eclipsed by the more socially conservative wing of the party.

"The eastern establishment got weaker and weaker," Rose said. "Today, there's really no eastern establishment to speak of."


"There is no longer, to speak of, a moderate voice within the party," Rose said. "It's a party that's becoming more narrow and there's really no sense of compromise within the party."

Jennifer Donahue, political director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College, said she believes the GOP can still come back, at least in independent-minded New Hampshire where the state motto is "Live Free or Die."

"It depends on the state. I don't really think you can look at it as a regional phenomenon," Donahue said of New England politicians trending Democratic. "The further north you get, the colder it gets, the more the voters look at (races) on a case-by-case basis."


Lawrence J. Cafero Jr., the Republican leader of Connecticut's House of Representatives, blames the image of the national Republican party for hurting the GOP in New England, where Republicans historically have often favored fiscal responsibility, abortion rights, protection of personal liberties and strong environmental policies.

He believes the problem worsened with the 1994 so-called "Republican Revolution," when midterm congressional elections added 54 Republican seats in the House.

"They lost their way and I think more and more New England people, especially those who were Republicans basically because of smaller government and less government intrusion into our lives, started to see their party led by people whose foremost issues were social issues, religious and values and morals, etc.," Cafero said.

"I think that turned a lot of people off in New England and they didn't feel the party was really with them," he added.

Carrie James, a regional press secretary with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which supports Democratic congressional candidates, said bad feelings about President Bush, the war in Iraq and the weakened economy have helped to persuade New England voters to support Democrats over the past eight years.

One bright spot for the GOP in New England has been their control of governorships. Republicans are governors in Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island.

"A big part of our strategy this cycle was to link Republican incumbents with the failed policies of the Bush administration and it's not applicable in a governor's race," James said. "But certainly President Bush damaged the Republican brand across the board." [...]

(bold emphasis mine) I think New England Republicans expected a lot more of George Bush, and what he delivered was not what they were wanting.

It's a good article that covers a lot of points, it's worth reading the whole thing. It ends by saying that Yankee Republicans are more moderate than the Religious conservatives who have been trying to dominate the party; that moderate Republicans have no home in the GOP, and therefore, the brand is dead in New England. And 8 years of George Bush put the nails in the coffin, as evidenced in this last election.

It also talks about hopes for a Republican Revival in New England, but the national GOP would have to become more moderate, more open and expansive, to accommodate them. Right now, it's simply too small.

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