The current 1st Bristol district was drawn in 2001. In 2002 and 2004, Michael Coppola ran unopposed, so yesterday’s was the first contested election in this district. However, the 1st Bristol district drawn in the early 90s was fairly similar: All of Foxboro, three precincts in Mansfield, and all of Norton. That district was used for elections from 1994 through 2000, two of which were contested:
1996: John Manning (D) challenged incumbent Barbara Hyland (R)
2000: Hyland retired, and Michael Coppola (R) faced Diane Royle (D)
|1994||12549 (76%)||–||3748 (23%)||16321||Hyland, unopposed|
|1996||11733 (58%)||7842 (39%)||673 (3%)||20253||Hyland vs. Manning|
|1998||11087 (79%)||–||2876 (21%)||14004||Hyland, unopposed|
|2000||12155 (55%)||8712 (39%)||1287 (6%)||22187||Coppola vs. Royle|
|… redistricted in 2001 …|
|2002||10701 (78%)||–||3061 (22%)||13800||Coppola, unopposed|
|2004||13900 (75%)||–||4654 (25%)||18633||Coppola, unopposed|
The Republican candidates won Norton solidly in both 1996 and 2000. Barbara Hyland beat John Manning in Mansfield in 1996, but Diane Royle beat Michael Coppola in Mansfield in 2000.
Although the district was fairly similar to the one we competed in this time, the numbers can’t be directly compared. All of those were regular statewide or presidential elections, with the state rep race effectively the bottom of the ballot. They therefore include a substantial number of voters who were not motived to vote by the state rep race, and who in many cases were not even aware of the candidates.
This election also doesn’t fall cleanly into either “challenger vs. incumbent” or “open seat” categories. The seat was open, but when a widow runs to fill their former spouse’s seat, the widow factor does some of the same things that incumbency does. Many voters vote for the widow based on their feelings about the former incumbent. Near the end of this race, the Coppola campaign sent out a mail piece making great use of the widow factor to play on people’s sympathies, and it was probably very effective.
This campaign was an uphill fight. I believe it was possible to win. As always after losing an election, one starts to wonder, what could have been different? Might different choices – in strategy, message, fundraising, or field – have led to a better result? It’s hard to know, and that’s frustrating. You can’t run the same election over again, you can only try new things in different elections.
Overall, though, this was Coppola’s race to lose, and Claire Naughton got a surprisingly strong showing. She did better than past Democratic candidates. She’s the first Democrat to win in both Norton and Mansfield, and the first Democrat to break 40%, since the Foxboro-Mansfield-Norton district was first drawn. And she did it by running on a solid Democratic message, without shying away from things like her support for gay marriage, opposition to an income tax rollback, opposition to the death penalty, and support for new taxes to fund health care coverage. Whatever the lessons are regarding campaign strategy choices, one lesson I think is clear is this:
- You don’t need to run away from progressive Democratic positions, to run effectively as a Democrat in a conservative district.