By Christian M. Wade, Statehouse Reporter
BOSTON — While the Democratic race to succeed outgoing U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas has become a crowded field, the Republican ticket is more certain.
Pepperell businessman Rick Green has emerged as the sole GOP candidate in the 3rd Congressional District race, after one Republican challenger dropped out and another switched parties.
Candidates seeking to run for the seat began collecting signatures this week to get on the Sept. 4 primary ballot. As of Monday, no other Republicans had pulled paperwork from the secretary of state’s office. Contenders must gather the signatures of at least 2,000 registered voters by May 8.
Green is making his first run for elected office by seeking to replace Tsongas, who is retiring after serving six terms.
He will face the winner of a crowded field of 13 Democrats who are scrambling to build name recognition and get their message out ahead of the primary.
One thing he won’t face, however, is competition from his own party.
Republican Scott Gunderson of Groton, a former U.S. Navy pilot and Iraq War veteran, had filed paperwork to challenge Tsongas but decided not to run. He recently endorsed Green’s candidacy.
Louis Marino, who filed to run as a Republican, recently switched parties to become a Democrat.
Political observers say not having a primary challenger gives Green a clear advantage over candidates on the Democratic side.
“If you’re a Republican trying to overcome a Democrat in Massachusetts, not having to spend all of your money and resources on the opposing party is a win,” said Erin O’Brien, chairwoman of the political science department at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
“You’re still facing uphill battle, but it makes the slope is a little less steep,” she said.
O’Brien said if the Democratic nominee comes out of the primary battered and bruised, Green’s advantage will be greater.
Mary McHugh, a political science professor at Merrimack College, said a contentious Democratic primary could steal the limelight from Green.
“All these people are going to be getting the public’s attention fighting it out on the Democratic side,” she said. “He could get caught up in the wash.”
Green could also get help from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has put him on a “young guns” list of hopefuls believed to have a shot at defeating their Democratic opponents. The “young guns” are engaged in the country’s most competitive elections in the 2018 cycle, according to the committee’s website.
In a recent interview, Green said he is focused largely on local issues as he talks to voters and travels the sprawling district, which stretches along the New Hampshire border from Winchendon Springs to Haverhill and south to Hudson and Marlborough.
“People are looking for help with things that affect their daily lives, from fixing roadways to dealing with opioid addiction,” he said.
“It’s not about red or blue,” Green said. “They’re sick of the fighting and they’re looking for someone to fix things.”
Green said the lack of a primary challenger frees his campaign to hone a message for the general election.
“It lets us focus on the voters’ concerns and issues, and how we’re going to address them, rather than playing to a smaller primary audience,” he said.
Green’s supporters say they believe the GOP has a shot at winning the seat held by Democrats since 1997.
The state’s 11-member congressional delegation is comprised entirely of Democrats, including Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren.
To be sure, Republican President Donald Trump won several towns in the 3rd District – including Dracut, Tyngsborough, Ashby, Winchendon and Green’s hometown – even while losing the state to Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
Gov. Charlie Baker, a Swampscott Republican, carried the district by 10 points in 2014 and will share the ballot with Green in November.
Susan LaPlante, a Lawrence Republican who supports Green’s candidacy, said having a GOP congressman would give the state a “seat at the table” in Washington, where the White House and Congress are controlled by Republicans.
“Right now, we’re getting nothing,” she said. “We have 11 Democrats in Washington who are more focused on obstructing and resisting than they are representing the people of Massachusetts.”
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Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.