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By Matt Murphy

Statehouse News Service

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker is either a fatalist or a realist.

Moments after welcoming newly elected Sen. Dean Tran to the “hearty band of Republicans in the state Senate,” the governor on Wednesday acknowledged what he considers a political reality in Massachusetts: Republicans’ ability to compete for legislative seats is limited.

“Look, there’s some districts in Massachusetts where Republicans have a shot and there’s some district where they don’t,” Baker said.

Tran’s victory was a rare coup for the Massachusetts Republican Party – he flipped a seat long held by Democrats in the Dec. 5 special election to replace Jennifer Flanagan.

The Vietnamese immigrant’s win was made possible by Baker, who plucked Flanagan from the Senate to serve on the newly created Cannabis Control Commission and then campaigned for the former Fitchburg city councilor despite some very notable policy differences.

But Republicans have not held a sufficient number of seats in the 40-member Senate to sustain a gubernatorial veto since the early 1990s, let alone challenge for the majority. Tran becomes just the seventh member of the minority caucus.

And with another special Senate election underway to replace Lynn Mayor Thomas McGee in the body, it looks like the Republican’s won’t be building on Tran’s win. Baker chalked up the MassGOP’s inability to recruit a candidate for the Third Essex District Senate race to the lack of a local bench.

State Rep. Brendan Crighton, a Lynn Democrat and long-time former aide to McGee, will be the only candidate on the primary ballot on Feb. 6, and barring a successful write-in campaign the Republican Party won’t field a challenger.

The open seat on the North Shore also happens to be in Baker’s Senate district, with his hometown of Swampscott one of the six communities that, at the moment, will have only one choice of a successor to McGee.

Baker differentiated between the Worcester and Middlesex district, won by Tran in the central part of the state, and the North Shore district where Baker lives.

“I think in this particular district where city councilor Tran ran he already had a pretty strong base of support in the local community. People knew him, respected the work he had done and that was an area of Massachusetts, frankly, where Karyn Polito and I did really well,” Baker said.

Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito carried the Worcester and Middlesex District by nearly 10,000 votes over former Attorney General Martha Coakley and Steve Kerrigan.

The governor also won the Third Essex District, but by a smaller margin. Baker prevailed in every community in the district except Lynn, winning in the district overall with 27,984 votes to Coakley’s 24,117.

“I think in my neighborhood, if you don’t start with somebody who’s developed a bit of a footprint there either serving in local government or some other elective office in the area, it’s hard to win a race, especially against a well-known and well-liked state representative, which Brendan definitely is,” Baker said.

The MassGOP did not respond last week when asked by the News Service about its candidate recruitment efforts in the Third Essex, but the strategy would be in keeping with its 2016 blueprint of focusing its efforts and financial resources on a select number of legislative races the party sees as winnable seats rather than blanketing the ballot.

Baker seemed to reinforce the importance of picking battles.

“I think in some respects all these races, in many respects, are about candidates and local issues and we should all remember that and that’s certainly the way we’re going to think about this as we move forward,” he said.

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