PEABODY — The surprising victory of Republican Leah Cole in the special election for state representative on Tuesday night suggests wide-ranging implications for Peabody.
While the triumph of a Republican in a solidly Democratic city was a blow to the Democrats, questions are being raised about the city’s future clout in a solidly Democratic Legislature and whether the Cole victory was more than a fluke.
The election was a three-way contest involving Cole, Democrat Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne and former Democrat David Gravel, who ran as an unenrolled candidate.
From the start, Republicans saw the possibility that in a low-turnout special election, Griffin Dunne and Gravel could split the Democratic vote, allowing Cole to win. As a result, GOP money and manpower arrived from across the state, while the candidate, a relative unknown in Peabody, pressed her opposition to new taxes.
The Republican hunch appears to have been a shrewd one.
Jarrod Hochman, a school board member and chairman of the Republican City Committee, even sees the possibility that Cole’s election represents a sea change in attitudes toward his party. Voters are beginning to realize, he said, “we can’t expect people who are struggling to continue to foot the bills for public spending. ... (Election) night was the beginning of that message.”
“It was a perfect storm,” said John McCarthy, a Republican candidate who had run unsuccessfully for state representative in the past. “With the governor’s big tax increase and his pipe-dream rail line and the government waste, which they’re not dealing with, her message is one of the reasons she won.”
He was less assertive, however, on the possibility that this election, where Cole got little more than a third of the vote, might constitute a breakthrough for Republicans.
“Republicans have done very well in these special elections,” he said. “We take the resources of the party and focus them on that one race.” But, he added, “It’s tough when everyone shows up.”