A Candidate supported by Donald TrumpVictory in Massachusetts’ Republican primary could spell trouble for his party in November’s gubernatorial race as he takes on a deep-pocketed Democrat in a blue state long defined by moderate political leadership.
Former State House Rep. Geoff Diehl, who previously chaired Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in the state, defeated political newcomer Chris Doughty in Tuesday night’s primary election, grooming him to represent his party against the Democratic Attorney General. Maura Healey in the race to succeed incumbent Republican Governor Charlie Baker in November.
Republicans have an inherent advantage in races to run the state. Since 1990, only one Democrat, Deval Patrick, has won the governorship. Diehl’s appointment, however, probably represents the worst-case scenario for Republicans as they seek to retain control of the Governor’s Mansion.
Diehl is very popular with Republican activists. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans backed him at the party convention in May, while most polls leading up to Election Day showed him a double-digit lead among Republican voters. He also had greater name recognition and had numerous endorsements from high-profile figures in the state’s Republican establishment, including former Massachusetts GOP chairman Jim Rappaport and former Patriots offensive lineman from New England Matt Light.
However, Diehl’s platform includes many facets that could hurt him with general election voters, including an anti-abortion posture dating back to his days in the state house as well as unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” to benefit the president Joe Bidenwhich won the state that year by more than 33 points.
Diehl’s positions, as well as his attacks on state media, have also raised questions about his long-term viability. Some, like conservative radio host Howie Carr and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, have portrayed a vote for Diehl as effectively a vote for Healey, noting Diehl’s loss to the progressive senator. Elizabeth Warren in its failure in the United States in 2020 Senate offer.
Going into Tuesday, Diehl’s campaign had exhausted its funds in a divisive race against millionaire Doughty, with campaign finance reports showing less than $17,000 in cash compared to $4.7 million for Healey.
“He’s the only guy who can win in November,” Sununu said of Doughty in a recent campaign appearance. “You can’t govern if you don’t win. That should be the first and only thing every Republican in the state of Massachusetts should think about.”
However, Boston-based Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said Newsweek that the two candidates likely poisoned themselves among the general electorate as they battled to appeal to the conservative Republican base on their way to the general, even as Doughty tried to portray himself as the moderate alternative in a State long defined by socially liberal, but fiscally conservative rulers.
Healey, Marsh said, is also one of the strongest Democratic candidates the state has seen in decades, riding a wave of popularity that began with his vow to sue Trump during the March of the Women of 2017 on Boston Common. Even before the overthrow of Roe vs. Wade in June, Healey edged Doughty and Diehl by more than 20 points in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup. Going into the fall, she holds a significant advantage in the polls amid an electrified Democratic electorate.
The Republican race, meanwhile, has virtually become a referendum on Trump’s sway over the Massachusetts GOP race, with Diehl holding a Labor Day town hall call with the former president while Doughty – who voted for hillary clinton in 2016, distancing himself from the former president in an effort to woo independent voters.
Doughty fared well with independents and early primary voters. But combined with the corner issues of gay rights and abortion in the state, Democrats, whoever won on Tuesday night, was already poised to have a clear advantage in November. Diehl’s win, Marsh said, made things easier.
“Massachusetts has always been ahead on those two issues, let alone everything else,” Marsh said. “The formula for Republicans has always been to keep the Republican base but win over the unregistered voters, and neither Diehl nor Doughty will be able to do that. That just increases Maura Healey’s margin, frankly.”