The people of the 2nd Bristol District, which includes most of Attleboro, will have a new representative in the state House. Democratic challenger Paul Heroux defeated Republican incumbent George Ross Tuesday night with 58.15 percent of the vote.
Many people expected this to be a close election, but it wasn't. With 70.2 percent of registered voters participating, Heroux won all 11 precincts in the district—all by wide margins. This came as a surprise to many people, including Heroux.
"I really didn't think I was going to win," said Heroux, speaking in a private room during his victory gathering at his home on Mechanic Street. "I thought I was going to lose by about 1 percent, 2 percent. I knew I had a chance, I had a shot, but I didn't think it was going to happen."
Heroux, a 36-year-old public policy consultant, had never previously run for a political office. He was competing against a 63-year-old man who had significant political experience, including two years as a state representative, seven terms on the Attleboro City Council and service on various local boards. But it appeared to Heroux during his campaign that people were looking for something new.
"I think people wanted something different," he said. "I heard that at a lot of the doors I knocked on. They wanted fresh blood. I heard that over and over. I don't think it was anything personal against George. I heard a lot of people liked George. They thought he was a nice guy, but I heard they wanted somebody new."
During these door-to-door meetings, Heroux picked up lots of volunteers to join his campaign.
"I had no political base like George, who has been around for a long time," Heroux said. "I built a base knocking on the doors. I picked up volunteers. More than half the people who volunteered, I met knocking on doors."
A telephone message left at Ross' home Tuesday night was not returned. An attendee at his election party told Attleboro Patch he gave a concession speech shortly after the results were announced.
Heroux said he believed voters liked his two major messages during the campaign—improving mental health services in Massachusetts and attaching performance measures to state spending bills.
During the campaign, several people said Ross was receiving significant assistance from former state Rep. Bill Bowles, a longtime rival of Ross. Bowles had beaten Ross in 2008 to win the seat, and Ross reversed the result two years later. Heroux said Bowles assisted him during the campaign, but that he was not Bowles' puppet.
"Bill helped me a lot with providing lists of doors I needed to knock on," Heroux said. "However, Bill and I had many differences on what issues I should run on. I don't want to get into great detail on that ... but I'm my own person."
Heroux said he would seek advice from Bowles about what it is like to be a state representative, but he would do the same with anybody who has this experience.
"If George has any advice, I'll take advice from him too," Heroux said. "I would be foolish not to take everybody's advice."
Among the people Heroux wants to speak with is Rep. Betty Poirier, whose district includes the only precinct in Attleboro that is not in Heroux's district. Poirier is an ally of Ross and strongly endorsed his campaign.
"I have never met Betty," Heroux said. "I've heard a lot of good things about her as an effective legislator. I'm looking forward to working with her, particularly on stuff that concerns spending and fiscal responsibility. I know that she and George worked well together and I've heard she and Bill Bowles did not work well together. I'm hoping to work well with her."
Heroux said he would also be contacting Mayor Kevin Dumas "sooner than later." He said he liked and knew Dumas, who attended Attleboro High School at the same time he did, but he did not know him well.
This campaign was marked by some controversies. During the primary election, Heroux concentrated more on Ross than his Democratic competitor through press releases that attacked the incumbent. After Heroux secured his party's nomination, he challenged Ross to four debates. Ross refused, and the campaign became a debate about having debates. When the two finally met in their first and only debate, it was apparent they agreed on little and did not like each other.
"It was a very indifferent campaign, almost apathetic," Heroux said. "George and I had no contact except the debate. It was quiet for the most part, and then toward the end, things got more interesting."
Among the interesting parts were Ross' wife Jeanne pulling Heroux's voting record at City Hall. When Heroux found out about this, he issued a statement to the media blasting what he considered to be Ross' dirty politics. With Heroux making this issue public, residents learned he had not voted in most elections that occurred since he turned 18. Also, Heroux was forced to admit he had joined the Navy, but quit only a month into training.
In addition, there was an incident dubbed by some as "fingergate." Heroux had accused Ross of giving the debate audience the infamous one-finger salute while arguing with some members about their reaction to one of his statements. Ross denied that he did this, and said it was a "dismissive gesture" with his hand. The state Democratic party issued a mailer this past weekend with a still frame from the debate showing Ross and a censor marker covering his hand along with unflattering information about the incumbent.
Whether any of these side shows affected the outcome of the race is uncertain. Heroux said he did not know whether they were factors.
Editor's Note: The original version of this story included an incorrect version of a quote attributed to Paul Heroux. Attleboro Patch was contacted about the error and has corrected the quote after verifying the error had been made by listening to the recording of the interview.