Weeks after Election Day, two Massachusetts House races may be bound for recounts with razor-thin margins. The results could add to the cuts slowly whittling the chamber’s GOP caucus.
Candidates for state representative in the Nashoba Valley and on the North Shore have filed for district-wide recounts in their races, where a handful of votes separate each of them in districts that have long been held by Republicans.
In the 1st Middlesex district, Democrat Margaret Scarsdale leads Republican Andrew Shepherd by 17 votes for an open seat that, before this year, had been held by the GOP for nearly 40 years. To the east, state Representative Lenny Mirra, a five-term Georgetown Republican, leads his Democratic challenger, Kristin Kassner, by just 10 votes for a seat he’s had since 2013 but whose makeup was dramatically remade during last year’s redistricting process.
“This [election] was supposed to be a red wave. But in Massachusetts it turned into a pretty big and sizable blue wave,” said Mirra, who fought off Democratic challenges in 2018 and 2020, each time by just hundreds of votes. Even with a mere 10-vote lead this time — he has 11,754 votes to Kassner’s 11,744, according to certified results — he said he’d be surprised if a recount flipped the race, where he had the backing of outgoing Governor Charlie Baker and a Baker-aligned super PAC.
“Democrats won by huge margins” in other races, he said. “For me to win, I had to get a lot of those voters to come my way.”
Shepherd and Kassner filed petitions this week to recount the votes, and while the Governor’s Council has yet certify the results — which it could do by Wednesday — they would fall well within the 0.5 percent margin needed for Secretary of State William F. Galvin to order a taxpayer-funded recount. Should they move forward, Galvin plans to order that recounts be completed no later than Dec. 10, according to his office.
The races will have no effect on which party controls power in the House, where Democrats have long held a supermajority. But the results could detract from the Republicans’ shrinking presence on Beacon Hill.
Democrats are poised to hold at least 132 seats in the 160-member House come January — three more than they began last session with — in addition to keeping the 37 they had in the Senate.
Should the current margins hold in the 1st Middlesex and 2nd Essex, adding another Democrat and GOP seat apiece, it would give Democrats 133 and Republicans 26. That would mark the lowest GOP share since 2009, before a Tea Party-fueled wave the next year helped more than double their numbers in the chamber.
With the Democrats’ dominance across the ballot this fall when they captured every statewide office in Massachusetts and held all nine US House seats, the potential for erosion in even once-safe GOP bunkers has unsettled Republicans.
“Listen I’ll come right out and say it: The Massachusetts GOP has got to be the worst-run party in America,” Mirra said. “It has been that way for a very long time. I can’t think of a party, on either side, that is more dysfunctional than the MassGOP.”
Jim Lyons, the state party chairman, said Friday he wasn’t available for an interview but shared a spreadsheet tracking GOP representation. This election cycle would mark the third straight one in which Republicans have lost legislative seats, including in 2020, when they bled five seats over the year.
The 1st Middlesex seat had been in GOP hands since 1984, and was represented by Sheila Harrington for more than a decade before the Groton Republican resigned in February to take a clerk magistrate post.
Scarsdale, a former Pepperell Select Board member, has described herself as “fiscally conservative” and “socially responsible.” On her campaign website, she touted working with Harrington, listed an endorsement from Governor-elect Maura Healey, and included a picture of her alongside Baker and others.
Certified results show her with 9,384 votes to Shepherd’s 9,367.
“I know how to bring people together and juggle multiple priorities,” Scarsdale said in an e-mail.
Shepherd, a Townsend Republican who runs a water delivery company, ran with Baker’s support, and once worked in Harrington’s office. He overcame a self-described conservative in the GOP primary, and pitched himself both as an advocate for the rural district needs and one who could help bring balance to a Democrat-dominated Legislature.
The field also included an independent candidate. But that there are two close races that may go to recounts was a reflection of an electorate that’s “really polarized and divided,” he said.
“We did our best to bring people together, the best we could,” he said. “But I think it’s partially reflective of the country.”
In the 2nd Essex, the thin margins could owe to new boundaries. When the Legislature reshaped its electoral map during the redistricting process last year, it overhauled Mirra’s district, slicing off all or parts of five communities and merging his hometown and Newbury with other North Shore communities, including Ipswich, Rowley, and Hamilton, where Kassner lives.
Mirra was the only House member to vote against the new maps last year — “I got totally screwed,” he said Friday — and Kassner, a longtime planning director for Burlington, said she was motivated to run, in part, because of the newly drawn lines. That she was able to draw so close to an incumbent “says a lot about where our district wants to go.”
Kassner said Friday she planned to spend the weekend speaking with supporters about whether to forge ahead with the recount request, given the drain it could put on resources.
“At the same time, it is so close, we want to be able to say to our volunteers that we did everything we could to ensure the outcome was what it was,” Kassner said. “I’m a first-time candidate. I never expected to be in this place.”
It’s not the first time a race has been this close.
In 2014, James Kelcourse, a Republican, won a North Shore seat after initially leading by 10 votes, and picking up 2 more in a recount. Adding to the drama that year, some ballots in the district had already undergone a hand count on Election Day because residue from a Tootsie Roll had messed with a voting machine.
But Kelcourse’s victory does have a distinction from this year: It flipped a seat that once belonged to Democrats.