Five of the past six governors of Massachusetts have been Republicans, and the party believes it has a shot at keeping the seat with Geoff Diehl, a Trump-backed candidate determined to stop Democrat Maura Healey from becoming the state’s most far-left governor ever.
Mr. Trump is viscerally unpopular among a deep-blue swath of residents in Massachusetts, but a Trumpian streak cutting through the state electorate could help propel Mr. Diehl to victory in November. Mr. Trump picked up more than 1 million votes in the state’s 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, and he remains popular there today.
The former president’s endorsement of Mr. Diehl likely helped the former state representative easily clinch the party’s nomination this month over the Republican establishment’s candidate, Chris Doughty.
“Certainly, President Trump has had a solid following, of which I am one of them,” Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons told The Washington Times.
The Massachusetts Republican Party this summer gave its primary endorsement to Mr. Diehl, 53, who was among the earliest Republicans in New England to back Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Mr. Trump did not campaign in the state for Mr. Diehl but held a teleconference “rally” the day before the Sept. 6 primary. The former president promoted Mr. Diehl as “the only conservative running” and called Mr. Doughty “an establishment RINO” who would “surrender to the left-wing extremists.”
Mr. Diehl defeated Mr. Doughty by 11 percentage points.
A Trump-Diehl rally in Massachusetts isn’t on the schedule ahead of the Nov. 8 election, but Mr. Diehl is echoing the former president’s populist message for the state’s voters, nearly a third of whom voted for Mr. Trump in the past two presidential elections.
“What we saw was a candidate who was authentic and spoke from the heart and connected with people,” Mr. Diehl told The Times. “And that has been my goal: to connect with people on the issues that are important to them, not necessarily what special interest groups push as an agenda.”
Despite the state’s history of electing Republican governors, including two-term incumbent Charlie Baker, Ms. Healey, who has served as attorney general since 2015, is considered the front-runner.
An Emerson College poll released Sept. 8 found Ms. Healy with an 18-point lead, reinforcing fears among establishment Republicans that a Trump-backed candidate would not gain the traction needed to defeat a well-known Democrat.
Still, the poll bore good news for Mr. Diehl. He crushed Ms. Healey among critical independents, who make up more than half of the state’s electorate, by 7 points. Mr. Diehl led Ms. Healey by 16 points among those concerned about the economy, a top issue for Massachusetts voters. He also polled better than Ms. Healey on crime, immigration and handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think his message is resonating with independents, the policies that he’s promoting resonate with independents, and I think Geoff has got a real good shot of winning in November,” Mr. Lyons said.
Republicans believe the Emerson poll shows a path to victory for Mr. Diehl, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of more than 3-1 in Massachusetts. Independent or unenrolled voters make up nearly 60% of the electorate, and they have begun to sour on Democrats — President Biden in particular.
“There is a huge contingent of conservative Trump folks up here in Massachusetts,” Mr. Lyons said. “However, in order to win in Massachusetts, we have to also point out to the people in the middle that Biden’s policies are destroying our economy.”
Republicans view Ms. Healey’s liberal record as a significant vulnerability in Massachusetts, where voters have nearly exclusively elected Republican governors for more than three decades as a check on the Democratic-dominated state legislature.
Mr. Diehl is linking Ms. Healey’s far-left agenda to the state’s economic woes, the rising concerns about parental rights in education, and lingering hardships related to the state’s pandemic lockdowns and vaccine mandates.
He contrasts Ms. Healey’s record with his tenure in the state legislature, where he led a ballot initiative to repeal an increase in the gasoline tax. This summer, Mr. Diehl championed a successful effort to get a referendum on the November ballot to repeal a new state law allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Ms. Healey’s tenure as attorney general included a push to end natural gas pipelines in the state, advocating for transgender bathroom rights and suing the Trump administration nearly 100 times. Like California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom, she is proposing a plan to end the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2035 and has pledged to make the state’s costly energy supply “100% clean” by 2030.
“Maura Healey is proud to brag about how she blocked two natural gas pipelines that were going to come into Massachusetts,” Mr. Diehl said. “They were going to feed our manufacturing businesses and feed our heating. Now, when our home heating bills start to double in the fall, we are going to make sure people know it was her fault.”
Neither the Healey campaign nor the state Democratic Party responded to The Times’ requests for comment.
If elected, Ms. Healey, 51, would become the state’s first lesbian governor. She warned in her acceptance speech after winning the Democratic gubernatorial primary that Mr. Diehl “would bring Trumpism to Massachusetts.”
Since winning the primary, however, Ms. Healey has pivoted away from the liberal policies she advocated as attorney general and is tapping into the populism favored by Trump supporters.
In a new 30-second ad, Ms. Healey didn’t mention her clean energy initiatives. She called herself “the people’s lawyer” and promised to make Massachusetts “more affordable.” She pledged to cut taxes, reduce the costs of housing and transportation, and boost vocational training.
“She’s seeing the same numbers with the polling that we are seeing,” Mr. Diehl said. “So she’s going to try to pretend that she wants to be a tax cutter at a time when I’m the only one who actually has that track record of being able to cut taxes. That’s an indicator there that she already knows she’s in trouble. ”