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In state legislative races, Democrats keep wide majorities in House, Senate

Democrats maintained a firm grip on state legislative power in Tuesday’s election.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Democrats maintained a firm grip on state legislative power in Tuesday’s election, in which Republicans failed to even field challengers in many races.

Democrats held 170 of 200 legislative seats going into the election, and although votes were still being tallied Wednesday, Republicans appeared to have made no gains.

According to unofficial results, Democrats appear likely to add one seat in the 40-seat Senate, increasing their total from 36 to 37 seats by reclaiming the vacant post previously held by former Democratic Senator Adam Hinds. Republicans held onto their three incumbent seats.

In the 160-seat House, Democrats seem poised to increase their majority from 125 to 132 seats after winning several open spots, including two previously formerly held by Republicans who didn’t run again — James Kelcourse of Amesbury, who left for the Parole Board, and Timothy Whelan of Brewster, who ran for Barnstable sheriff.

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Republicans appear likely to hold the same number of House seats they had going into the election, 27.

One independent House lawmaker, Susannah Whipps of Athol, was declared the winner by the AP Wednesday afternoon in a three-way race for re-election in her central Massachusetts district. She faced Republican Jeffrey Raymond and unenrolled candidate Kevin McKeown.

There were a total of 74 contested races in the state Legislature Tuesday. More than 90 of the 160 House seats went to Democrats who did not face a Republican challenger, as did nearly half of the 40 seats in the state Senate.

There were a few notable contests. Senator Rebecca Rausch, a Needham Democrat held off a challenge from Republican state Representative Shawn Dooley of Wrentham Wednesday, according to unofficial results.

In the fifth Middlesex District, Democratic Senator Jason Lewis of Winchester, chairman of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, defeated challenger Republican Edward Dombroski, Jr., a Wakefield town councilor, the AP projected.

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On the Cape, the AP declared Senator Susan Moran, a Falmouth Democrat, the winner in a race against Bourne School Committee member Kari MacRae Wednesday morning.

Democrat Jacob Oliveira of Ludlow led Republican William E. Johnson of Granby in the contest to represent a reshaped Senate district that had been represented by departing Senator Eric Lesser, according to unofficial results Wednesday. Lesser, a former Obama administration official, ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor earlier this year.

In the House, Democrat Judith Garcia and Republican Todd Taylor, who are colleagues on the Chelsea City Council, vied to represent a new Hispanic-majority district that spans Chelsea and a part of Everett. Garcia won with about 72 percent of the vote, the AP projected.

Representative Tram Nguyen, an Andover Democrat, was also the winner in her campaign against Republican challenger Jeffrey DuFour of Tewksbury Wednesday afternoon. DuFour lost to Nguyen in 2020.

With so much focus on national politics, an anemic state GOP, and comparatively little press coverage, legislative races drew relatively little attention from voters this time around.

“I think there’s a general lack of knowledge of any really hot, contested races, unless you’re in them or you’re a political professional,” said Erin O’Brien, a political science professor at UMass Boston.

Despite Republican gains in Congress and in state-level campaigns across the country, the state Republican Party failed to take advantage of a seemingly advantageous environment, said John Cluverius, an associate professor of political science at UMass Lowell.

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“There is no reason why in a midterm election — with an unpopular Democratic president and a tough economy — that you shouldn’t be running Republican candidates everywhere,” Cluverius said.

Cluverius said the state GOP has become much more polarized and conservative in the past two years, and hews closer to Donald Trump than Charlie Baker. But that has limited Republicans’ appeal with voters statewide.

“Despite the fact that they have one of the most extremely popular governors in an extremely Democratic state, most Republicans running for office are much more Donald Trump Republicans than they are Charlie Baker Republicans, even in Massachusetts,” he said.

“The question is, can Republicans be happy with the best Republican that they can get?” he said. “And I think we’ve seen — at least in the organization of the party — a strong movement away from that.”

Jim Lyons, the head of the state Republican party, did not respond to requests for comment.

Gus Bickford, chairperson of the state Democratic Party, said the party focused on areas like Worcester, Bristol, Plymouth, and Barnstable counties.

“We put organizers in these and ran programs over the last 18 months to engage the grassroots and build up the support for the eventual candidates,” Bickford said said.

Democratic lawmakers’ political views are always more diverse than their party label suggests, and so it remains to be seen whether Governor-elect Maura Healey can unite the caucus behind her priorities.

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But Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh was optimistic. Healey, who has served for years as an elected attorney general, has worked alongside many of the lawmakers who will serve next year, Marsh said.

Referencing Healey’s earlier career as a professional basketball player, Marsh said Healey approaches politics “like a point guard.”

“It’s not what’s not important is how many points she scores, but how many assists she dishes out,” she said.

The incoming Legislature will also benefit from more people of color serving among its members, said Beth Huang, the executive director of the Massachusetts Voter Table.

Lawmakers created new majority-minority districts intended to bolster the political power of people of color in the Legislature, which is overwhelmingly white, after Census data reflected growth in the state’s Black, Hispanic, and Asian populations.

Along with Garcia, incoming lawmakers in the new majority-minority House districts include Priscila Sousa of Framingham, Samantha Montaño of Boston, and Rita Mendes of Brockton. Representatives-elect Estela Reyes of Lawrence and Francisco Paulino of Methuen are also expected to represent new majority Hispanic districts.

Liz Miranda, a state representative from Boston, and Pavel Payano of Lawrence were elected to represent new districts in the state Senate.

That representation can have a broad impact. Huang pointed to Adam Gomez, who was elected to the state Senate in 2020 after defeating a longtime incumbent during that year’s primary. He ran unopposed for re-election Tuesday.

Gomez, a Springfield Democrat, became a sponsor of what would become Question 4, which asked voters Tuesday to uphold a law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for state drivers licenses, she said. By Wednesday morning, the “Yes” campaign was in the lead, according to unofficial results.

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The measure is “an important piece of legislation that matters to so many immigrant families,” Huang said. “That’s the type of leadership that we’re looking for from these elected officials who will reflect and respond to their communities.”




John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.