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Torkildsen stepping down as chairman of Mass. GOP

Glen Johnson

Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Peter Torkildsen said last Wednesday he would not seek another term, one week after the already anemic state GOP grew weaker.

The former North Shore congressman told The Associated Press he could not summon the drive needed to continue leading the party through the 2010 gubernatorial and legislative elections, so he will step down after completing his two-year term in January.

“My gut response after we lost seats in the election was to go back at it and win seats in 2010, but I also had to look at it and say, ‘Could I give it 100 percent for the next two years?’ and I could not say that,” Torkildsen said.

Massachusetts is considered one of the bluest Democratic states in the country, and the state Republican Party was already at a historic low before the Nov. 4 election.

Then it saw its numbers shrink by three in the 200-member House, to 16. And while all its members won re-election in the Senate, they comprise only five of 40 senators.

Ballot question results underscored an unfavorable climate for an anti-tax, socially conservative party: A question proposing to eliminate the state income tax was defeated, while one proposing to decriminalize possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana was approved.

The results prompted state committeewoman Jennifer Nassour of Boston to say that she would challenge Torkildsen for the chairmanship when GOP leaders gather Jan. 27.

When Torkildsen was elected in 2007, there were seven candidates for the post.

In announcing his decision to step down, Torkildsen, 50, accepted blame for his party’s losses — although he also said the state GOP was victimized by national political trends that saw Barack Obama win the White House and his fellow Democrats post gains in congressional races across the country.

“I was sticking my neck out the week before the election, saying we were going to gain seats, because we had so many good candidates running in competitive districts,” he said. “What we were not anticipating were so many people that Barack Obama brought into the election and then voting the straight Democratic ticket. We had a lot of candidates getting 46, 47 percent of the vote and yet still not winning.”

Torkildsen gained party praise for running over 50 programs aimed at teaching political neophytes how to campaign for office and their supporters how to run a campaign.

He also spearheaded a somewhat controversial strategy of targeting a few key races for victory, rather than trying to recruit GOP candidates for all 200 legislative seats up for election.

The GOP did not offer challengers for 118 Democratic incumbents seeking re-election to the Legislature, and none for six seats that incumbents were vacating. The party offered only 48 legislative candidates overall, and only four for the 10 U.S. House seats up for election.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who had been unopposed for re-election in 2002, had a Republican opponent, but crushed Cape Cod businessman Jeff Beatty by a margin of 66 percent to 31 percent.

“I still think our strategy was correct, knowing we would have fewer resources without a Republican governor in office,” Torkildsen said. “We just ended up focusing in a year when Democrats were having their best year nationally since 1964.”

(Associated Press)