- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2008

HARTFORD, Conn. | A generation ago, the Republican Party was the dominant political force in New England, populating the region’s congressional delegations with moderates like Connecticut’s Lowell P. Weicker Jr. and Rhode Island’s John Chafee.

But today’s Republican Party, led by a more socially conservative wing of the party, is finding votes harder to come by.

Voters on Tuesday cast out Connecticut’s veteran Rep. Christopher Shays, the last New England Republican in the House of Representatives. Sen. John E. Sununu was voted out in New Hampshire, leaving that state’s Judd Gregg and Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe as the only Republicans among the region’s 12 senators.

Mr. Shays’ loss to former Goldman Sachs executive Jim Himes marks the first time since 1969 that southwestern Connecticut will be represented by a Democrat in the House.

“I felt that we were going to win this, I really did,” Mr. Shays told supporters. “I felt that people were so good to me, they were so nice to me. But they were deciding they were going to go the other way.”

New England’s votes in recent elections is a dramatic transformation for a region considered a Republican stronghold a generation ago.

The Republican Party and New England have a long history together.

At their first presidential convention, in 1856, Republicans nominated John C. Fremont on a platform of abolishing slavery in the territories - a widely held view in the North. While Fremont lost, he carried 11 Northern states. Later, Abraham Lincoln captured the presidency by winning 18 Northern states.

By the late 1940s, Republicans held 21 of 28 of New England’s seats in the House of Representatives. But the turning point came in 1964, when the Republicans nominated conservative Barry Goldwater for president, said Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.

Known for being fiscally conservative but more socially liberal, Northeast moderates - dubbed the Rockefeller Republicans after the former New York governor - started to be eclipsed by the more socially conservative wing of the party.

“The eastern establishment got weaker and weaker,” Mr. Rose said. “Today, there’s really no eastern establishment to speak of.”

Mr. Chafee’s son, Lincoln, was appointed to the Senate in 1999 after his father’s death and was elected in 2000 to a six-year term. A moderate like his father, Mr. Chafee was the only Republican in the Senate to vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq. But he was defeated by a Democrat in 2006.

That same year, Reps. Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons of Connecticut also were defeated by Democrats, buoyed by anti-Iraq-war and anti-President Bush sentiment.

Jennifer Donahue, political director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College, said she believes the Republican Party can still come back, at least in independent-minded New Hampshire where the state motto is “Live Free or Die.”

“It depends on the state. I don’t really think you can look at it as a regional phenomenon,” Mr. Donahue said of New England politicians trending Democratic. “The further north you get, the colder it gets, the more the voters look at [races] on a case-by-case basis.”

Lawrence J. Cafero Jr., the Republican leader of Connecticut’s House of Representatives, blames the image of the national Republican Party for hurting the Republican Party in New England, saying the problem worsened with the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” when midterm congressional elections added 54 Republican seats in the House.

“They lost their way and I think more and more New England people, especially those who were Republicans basically because of smaller government and less government intrusion into our lives, started to see their party led by people whose foremost issues were social issues, religious and values and morals, etc.,” Mr. Cafero said.

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