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New England GOP decline continues amid losses

Associated Press Modified: November 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm •  Published: November 10, 2012
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"We're New England Yankees, and we think a little differently," Shays said. "The people we represent focus more not on ideology, but on common sense."

While much of the region has voted heavily Democratic in recent years, voter registration numbers show a more nuanced picture. Voters unaffiliated with any party outnumber Democrats and Republicans in all the New England states that collect that information, representing 40 to nearly 53 percent of the electorate, depending on the state. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans everywhere but New Hampshire. Only Vermont doesn't track such information.

To appeal to independents, Brown positioned himself as a moderate, pro-abortion rights Republican and one of the most bipartisan members of the Senate. He ran TV ads that pictured himself with Obama, while barely uttering Romney's name. It didn't work. He lost by 8 points to Warren.

"They were able to label him and convince enough voters that he would be the 51st vote in the Senate to reverse successes that women had made over the years," said Gene Hartigan, a Republican consultant and former state party director.

Rhode Island congressional candidate Doherty argued the state would be better served by having a Republican in the GOP-controlled House, and said he could exert his influence to moderate the national party's positions.

Voter Lisa Harden, of East Providence, R.I., didn't buy it.

"He's a Republican, and he's going to follow the other Republicans," she said Tuesday after casting a ballot for the Democrat.

Across New England, national Republican groups spent millions in vain to get rid of Democratic members of Congress. In Massachusetts, which hadn't sent a Republican to the House since 1994, they had banked on Richard Tisei ousting U.S. Rep. John Tierney, a veteran Democrat who had been tarnished by fallout from a gambling scandal involving his wife's family.

During the campaign, Tierney suggested his opponent would back a far-right agenda in the House. Tisei, a former state senator who is openly gay, ran as a moderate yet lost narrowly.

Republicans blew it after 2010, when several tea party-backed candidates swept into Congress, and then focused on issues that turn off New England voters, said Robby Mook, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"They're not interested in passing fringe legislation about abortion, individual health care decisions," said Mook, a Vermont native. "They support civil liberties."

Hartigan said Republicans must acknowledge the growing political clout of women, young people and minorities and adjust their platform on social issues if they are to regain an edge, a sentiment echoed by Shays.

Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution think tank, said the national party has no incentive to care about New England because population has shifted to the South and West, and that's where the party sees its future.

Local Republicans are "going to have to get used to it, because it's hard to see this changing anytime soon," West said.

But some in the party took a more optimistic view.

"The major problems of the day, our crushing debt and bad economy, were not fixed by this election, and these problems will re-emerge bigger than ever," said Jerry Labriola Jr., chairman of the Connecticut GOP. "It's inevitable that the voters will need to turn to pro-growth, common-sense solutions offered by Republicans."

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Salsberg reported from Boston. Contributing were Associated Press writers Sue Haigh in Hartford, Conn., Norma Love in Concord, N.H., and David Sharp in Portland, Maine.

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Follow Michelle R. Smith at www.twitter.com/MRSmithAP