By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — They are the also-rans, the afterthoughts, the good sports who show up in November so at least there’ll be someone to choose from. But in Peabody, nobody expects Republicans to have much of a chance when it comes to serving on Beacon Hill.
Yet, with an important special election for state representative looming, the leaders of the city’s Republicans are hoping to change all that. And to do it, they plan on starting at the ground level.
Jarrod Hochman, chairman of the Republican City Committee — and a member of the School Committee — can give sound reasons why Republicans ought to be more competitive in Peabody. For one, their statewide candidates have had success here. In both his special election and his unsuccessful bid for re-election last November, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown took Peabody, Hochman said.
“Charlie Baker carried Peabody,” he said. Baker ran in the 2010 governor’s race.
“No Republican candidate,” John McCarthy said, “has won statewide without winning Peabody.”
McCarthy is the city’s Republican state committeeman. He’s also been an unsuccessful candidate for state representative.
Two Republicans have declared for the special election to fill the seat left open by the death of state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis in November.
Leah Cole and Gregory Bunn will face off in a March 5 primary, with the winner competing in the April 2 final election with Democrat Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne, a school board member, and the unenrolled (he promises to caucus with the Democrats) Councilor-at-large David Gravel on April 2.
In contrast to Griffin Dunne and Gravel, neither Cole nor Bunn have run for election in Peabody previously.
Hochman is encouraged by both candidates, nevertheless.
“Did anyone think Scott Brown had a chance against Martha Coakley?” he asked, citing the former senator’s opponent in the 2010 special election. “Everyone who puts their name on the ballot has a chance.”
McCarthy thinks Hochman would be “the perfect candidate. But he says this isn’t the right time for him.” Absent Hochman, he is also enthusiastic about Cole and Bunn, “two candidates working very hard.”
And even if they fail, they will benefit from the experience, McCarthy said.
“You’ll see them later on,” he said. “It’s party building. You’ve got to run in these races.”
A former city councilor, McCarthy thinks the district has improved for Republicans since he ran in 2004. For example, he said, the Legislature has moved the Route 1 mobile home parks — presumed to be a Democratic stronghold — into the district of Democratic Rep. Ted Speliotis, who was looking vulnerable in his previous district, an area including Danvers and part of Peabody.
McCarthy also sees the possibility that Griffin Dunne and Gravel will split the regular Democratic vote, allowing an opening for a GOP competitor.
In any case, McCarthy paints a dark future for the Democrats.
“People are going to see all these taxes,” he said. And little will result from “those pipe dreams, like high-speed rail lines everywhere, that the governor has.”
Both Hochman and McCarthy are touting a long-term strategy for Peabody that assumes an underlying sympathy for Republican issues. The pair hopes to build a strong team by running candidates for citywide offices like light commissioner, School Committee member and city councilor.
“We’re rolling out a number of candidates for different offices,” Hochman said. “We’re making a determined effort to infuse local government with Republicans.”
As a school board member, Hochman is one of the only Republicans in Peabody holding such an office. He cited Scott Frasca as a GOP loyalist intending to run for an at-large City Council seat.
“There’s strong support for Republicans in this city,” he said.
One of the people the Republicans might hope to attract is Hochman’s colleague on the School Committee, David McGeney.
“I was in the Republican Party for a long, long time,” McGeney said when asked to assess GOP strength in Peabody. “I left the Republicans for the Democratic Party.”
That didn’t last, either.
“I’ve been unenrolled,” McGeney said, “because I don’t like the radical views on either side.” He notes that a plurality of Peabody voters are now unenrolled.
“The American voter is moderate,” he said.
For that matter, McGeney doesn’t find much point to political parties locally, where offices, including that of mayor, are nonpartisan. “I don’t see how much (the party) matters. ... People need to focus on who the person is. Does their philosophy align with yours?”
Sense and compassion are more important than party labels, he said.
“I’ve developed great skepticism about the D’s and R’s.”