Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Special election for 11th Worcester seat gives advantage to GOP but is winnable by either Palitsch or Kane


Massachusetts political history has shown it is difficult to unseat an incumbent legislator. So when a legislator resigns—as Matt Beaton and Carlo Basile have done to take key jobs in the new administration of Governor Charlie Baker—there are often strong candidates waiting for a shot at the open seat and the upcoming March 31 special elections to replace Beaton and Basile hold true to form.

The March 3 primary for Basile's First Suffolk State Representative seat had five Democratic candidates and the primary winner—former Basile staffer Adrian Madaro—will almost surely emerge victorious against Independent candidate Joanne Pomodoro in the general election in this incredibly Democratic district.

The Shrewsbury-based Eleventh Worcester State Representative seat that had been held by Republican Matt Beaton, and previously by Republican Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, has two strong candidates—Democrat Jason Palitsch and Republican Hannah Kane—and the outcome is harder to predict.

While the GOP history of the 11th Worcester seat seems to show a preference of the district's voters for Republicans, President Obama won the district by 16 points in 2008 and 8 points in 2012. The district has a Partisan Voter Index (PVI) of D+3, or an average of 3 points more Democratic than the country for the last two presidential elections.

But what does a PVI of D+3 mean in terms of a special legislative election? In order to get a clearer picture I did a regression analysis of the Massachusetts legislative special election results since 2009 and compared them to district PVI.

District Fundamentals

While there are only 16 data points, the results indicate that a D+3 district is likely to elect a GOP legislator, but the range of possible outcomes is very wide. A strong Democratic candidate can win in this district—John Velis won in the less Democratic (D+1 PVI) 4th Hampden District to replace Republican Donald Humason a year ago.

The graph shows the Dem-GOP margin vs. district PVI for all of the Dem/GOP contested special elections for state legislative seats since 2009. The horizontal green line shows the cutoff between a Democratic and GOP win, and the angled blue line is regression line showing the best fit for the data. The Palitsch/Kane point shows where the 11th Worcester PVI of D+3 falls on the regression line. The shaded area shows the confidence interval—it is clear that this data is not strong enough to indicate a sure victory for either party, except in the most Democratic districts with a PVI above D+20.

MA Legislative Special Elections Graph

The following table holds a summary of all of the legislative special elections since 2009.

MA Legislative Special Elections Table


Both candidates have done a good job raising campaign dollars with Palitsch raising a total of $102,169 as of yesterday's pre-election report, while Kane has raised $118,630. The big difference comes in spending, as Palitsch spent all but $4,729, while Kane holds onto $71,428. Leaving this much cash on the table a week before the election seems to indicate confidence in a win by Kane—it doesn't make sense to reserve that much money for election day ground game or to leave that much money in the bank in a close race.

11th Worcester Fundraising Table

If the race ends up being close, the up-front spending by Palitsch might be a factor, but the similarity in fundraising totals does not seem to provide a game-changing element to overcome the district fundamentals.