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November 8, 2023

Durant flips Mass. senate seat for GOP

A large brick building with columns in front and a gold dome on top with a long staircase leading up to it and an American flag on the left hand side. Photo | Courtesy of Commonwealth of Massachusetts Massachusetts State House

Republicans will soon hold one-tenth of the seats in the Massachusetts Senate after GOP Rep. Peter Durant of Spencer defeated Democrat Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik in a central Massachusetts special election Tuesday.

The outcome marked a rare seat flip for Republicans, a defeat for Democrats in the first big contest since Maura Healey's election as governor, and an early win for new GOP Chair Amy Carnevale after a string of losses under former party chief Jim Lyons. 

Anne Gobi had long held the Worcester and Hampshire District seat for Democrats but resigned in June to join the Healey administration, and her departure opened up an opportunity for Republicans in a 22-community district where they have deeper wells of support.

It was the first Republican win in a Massachusetts special election since 2017, according to Carnevale, who claimed the result "signals a comeback for the MassGOP." 

Massachusetts Republicans currently represent just 28 districts in the 200-seat Legislature and don't hold any statewide offices.

While most Massachusetts Democrats are comfortably embedded in their positions, Durant's win, coming one year away from the biennial state elections, gives the Republican Party a glimmer of hope about a possible formula to propel its candidates in the current political environment.

Former state party chair Jennifer Nassour called it a "gigantic win" for Carnevale.

"See what happens with a great message, fabulous messenger and steadfast leadership…we CAN win!" Nassour tweeted Wednesday morning.

In the days leading up to the election, Durant touted a fundraising advantage over Zlotnik, asserted that voters "don't want the illegal immigration situation to continue," and promoted his plans "to stop Massachusetts from being a costly magnet state."

Former Gov. Charlie Baker endorsed Durant in late October, calling him an "independent voice for the people" and praising his "track record of standing up for taxpayers, helping small business, and ensuring state government is thrifty and accountable."

"This is a great win for the taxpayers of Massachusetts," Durant said in a statement released by the state Republican Party on Wednesday morning. "I am going to work around the clock to make a positive difference and be their common sense voice in the Senate. I cannot begin to thank Massachusetts Republican Party Chairwoman Amy Carnevale, enough for all the support and leadership showed during this important election. Her dedicated help made this victory possible."

Zlotnik, of Gardner, remains a member of the House and has an opportunity to hold on to that seat in the 2024 elections.

"We knew all along that this was going to be a tough race. This is a tough district. I think it's fair to say that Democrats are facing headwinds," Zlotnik told the Boston Herald's Chris Van Buskirk on Tuesday night.

Senate President Karen Spilka of Ashland lives about 38 miles east of Durant's hometown of Spencer. On Wednesday, she congratulated Durant on his win and said he "should be proud of the campaign he ran which presented a positive vision for our Commonwealth."

"The Senate will continue its work towards making the Commonwealth more affordable and equitable, and I hope Senator-elect Durant will join our efforts," Spilka said in a statement.

The election outcome was a loss for new Democratic Party Chair Stephen Kerrigan, who hopes to make Durant's Senate tenure brief.

“Make no mistake, in 2024 this will be a far different race," Kerrigan told Politico. 

Durant will boost the GOP ranks in the Senate to four, and his addition creates a new dynamic in that tiny caucus where he will join fellow conservative Ryan Fattman and more moderate Republicans Patrick O'Connor of Weymouth and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester.

"As we take on economic headwinds, driven by the rising cost of living, it is crucial to have a productive exchange of ideas in the legislature," Tarr said in an election night statement. "Peter will bring an important perspective to the chamber as we seek to make Massachusetts safer, more competitive, more affordable, and more prosperous."

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