Battenfeld: GOP election win shows migrant crisis a potent political issue

The surprise state Senate win for Republicans shows the political potency of the state’s ongoing struggle to deal with the vexing issue of migrants pouring into Massachusetts.

GOP Rep. Peter Durant heavily emphasized the migrant crisis and called for overturning the state’s right to shelter law in his campaign.

The message appeared to resonate with voters as Durant did well in central Massachusetts towns and even in the cities of Gardner and Worcester, which are dominated by Democrats.

Top Democrats should take heed of the results of the special Senate election unless they want to get surprised next November, too.

Gov. Maura Healey’s inability to deal with the influx of migrants could come back to haunt her party at the voting booth. Durant’s victory secured a rare seat in the Senate for Republicans.

He succeeds Anne Gobi, a Democrat who left the Legislature earlier this year to serve as the director of rural affairs in the Healey administration.

It isn’t often that a Republican steals a Democratic seat in Massachusetts – let alone in a low turnout special election.

The win was especially embarrassing for Democrats because of the dysfunctional and feuding Massachusetts GOP, which recently dumped conservative party chair Jim Lyons amid a dismal failure in last year’s election.

Now with a victory notched in their belt, Republicans have a powerful issue they can capitalize on in 2024.

Party chair Amy Carnevale said in an interview that the Durant campaign emphasized the migrant crisis as well as a gun control bill Democrats tried to rush through the House.

“We went with Peter’s assessment with the issues that were resonating in the district,” Carnevale said in an interview. “That (migrant crisis) is an issue that will continue to resonate across the state.”
Carnevale said voters are frustrated with the rising costs involved in housing migrants – estimated at $45 million a month, as well as the Healey administration’s handling of the crisis, in many cases giving little notification to communities where the migrants moved.

Republicans in 2024 will target certain legislative districts which are more friendly to the GOP and will continue to try and recruit candidates to run, she said.

“Having a win behind us helps a lot in that effort,” she added.

But getting more victories in 2024 will not be easy because it’s a presidential election year, with Democratic turnout expected to be much higher than Tuesday’s special election.

“For Republicans you have to have the right amount of magic and everything to come together,” Carnevale said.

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