MA-01 Race Analysis: Bill Gunn challenging Rep. John Olver for the 1st Congressional District

John Olver

The 1st Congressional District

There are two worlds of rural Massachusetts politics. At the center, radiating out from Democractic Worcester, are many solidly Republican little towns, places like Athol, Fitchburg and Leominster. These areas voted overwhelmingly for Scott Brown, and have turned sharply ( +15% points ) more Republican in the past two years.

Further to the West, as you enter Franklin and Hampshire counties, is one of the most consistently Democratic areas in the state. This Democratic base is anchored by college towns like Amherst, Northampton and Holyoke and extending to the hippie kingdoms of the Berkshire mountains.

[aside]Changing Voting Patterns: The New York Times has a fantastic interactive map where you can see how solidly Democractic this district is.

CPVI: Cook Partisan Voting Index, a measurement of how much a district leans toward one political party compared to the nation as a whole.[/aside]

Every part of the state has been trending Republican in the past two years, but Democratic losses in far Western Mass have been mininal.

The 1st district encompasses all of Democratic rural Massachusetts and a sizeable chunk of Republican rural Mass north of Worcester.

The district has a CPVI of +14 making it the 4th most Democratic District in Massachusetts, and the 79th most Democratic out of 440 districts nationally. Most strongly Democratic districts are urban. This is among the most Democratic rural districts in America.
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Map of the 1st Congressional District


The Candidates


» John Olver (D) $361,780 incumbent
» Bill Gunn (R) $2,846
» Michael Engel (I) $15,700


John Olver

John W. Olver has represented the 1st Congressional District spanning Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester and Middlesex Counties—since June 1991.

He is currently the only member from the Massachusetts delegation serving on the House Appropriations Committee.

Olver’s political career began in 1969, in the Massachusetts State House, representing a section of Hampshire County. Beginning in 1973, he served 18 years in the Massachusetts State Senate representing portions of Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden, and Berkshire Counties.

Prior to his tenure in the Massachusetts State House, Olver was a chemistry professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Olver earned his B.A. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, his M.A. from Tufts University, and his Ph.D. in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At age 71, Olver is one of our oldest Representatives.


William Gunn

Bill Gunn is the owner of a small construction firm, WLG Contstruction, in Ware. He was raised in Palmer, attended public schools, and served in the Navy until 1992.

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As part of the WMass 912 Project he led several contingents to Washington DC to protest the Health Care Reform Bill and other issues. He co-organized the Ware RTC Committee and is a volunteer for the Salvation Army and the Howard St. program in Springfield.

Bill Gunn is running on a platform of Limited Government, Repealing the Health Care Bill, Debt Reduction, Availability to Constituents, Lower Taxes and Parental Rights.

Bill Gunn has been receiving some favorable coverage in the hometown newspapers of the redder sections of ma-01. His campaign has been covered in a front page interview in  The Sentinel & Enterprise. He is also being followed by local blogger DaTechGuyBlog.


Michael Engel

Mike Engel was born and raised in New York City. He attended City College of New York graduating in 1965 with a degree in Political Science. In 1966, he was drafted into the US Army and was honorably discharged in 1968.

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In 1976, he accepted a teaching position at Westfield State College where he taught American Politics and served as chair of the Multicultural and Ethnic Studies program. He retired from teaching in 2004.

He has written two books, State and Local Government: Fundamentals and Perspectives and Struggle for Control of Public Education: Marketing Ideology vs. Democratic Values.

Since 1988, he has held a number of public offices in Easthampton, including Town Meeting, Selectman and School Committee. In 2007 he became the owner of a used book store, Cherry Picked Books in Easthampton.



It will take a miracle (or an act of God) for either of these candidates to beat Olver.

Olver comes into the race with name recognition built over decades, and a massive financial advantage. Olver has raised over $606,500 and has $361,000 of cash on hand. Gunn has raised $9,451 and has $2,846 cash on hand. Engel has raised $16,945, mostly from his own finances and has $15,700 cash on hand.

Even though some parts of the district have moved to the right, the majority is still strongly Democractic.

Neither Gunn or Engel has yet shown the kind of powerful campaign that will get them known to voters in time. And even if either of them could get their message out, it is likely the majority of voters in this district would be receptive to a well liked moderate (for Massachusetts) congressman.

In 2008, Olver was re-elected with 73% of the vote against Nate Bech (R). Given the move to the right in parts of the district, and the intensely anti-incumbent mood among voters, it’ is likely Gunn can do better than Bech did just two years ago on anti-incumbent feeling alone – just not nearly enough to win.

It is likely that voters will show up at the voting booth not knowing either Gunn or Engel well. Gunn can draw on Republican voters, but Engel has no such base.



The election will be based more on party affiliation than anything else. It will come down to votes either for or against Olver. I don’t expect him to do as well as he did in 2008. So I predict Olver will capture 60%, Gunn 35% and Engel 5%.

Mike Rossiette at RedMassGroup has his own interesting analysis of this race.



  • Audio Beige
    August 23, 2010 - 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Get ready for a miracle. Bill Gunn will win.

  • Engelforcongress
    August 31, 2010 - 6:03 pm | Permalink

    In the process of collecting signatures to get on the ballot, I literally approached thousands of registered voters. Out of all of these, perhaps two dozen or so said they would not sign because they supported Olver. Only three or four spontaneously cited something Olver had done for them. Far more grabbed the pen out of my hands when I said who I was running against.

    This is not the year for conventional wisdom about politics, i.e. the above analysis. I have an uphill battle to fight–but Olver is far more vulnerable than you may think.

  • Hartliner
    October 17, 2010 - 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Bill Gunn all the way!!!

  • Bathrick
    October 27, 2010 - 6:04 pm | Permalink

    OK, “Hippie Kingdom”, huh. Asshole

  • Hadleygrass
    October 29, 2010 - 4:01 pm | Permalink

    You failed to mention Bill Gunn was one the men who was arrested for yelling from the balcony during a House debate in Washington D.C. Now there’s a calm, rational, intelligent presence to lead the people. Read his issues on his website, I think a high school student typed it up.

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