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Massachusetts Republicans make sharp right turn in primary

The most Democratic state in the country has a history of liking Republican moderates — but the state’s GOP voters might no longer be moderate.

GLOUCESTER, Mass. (CN) — Four of the last five Massachusetts governors have been liberal Republicans, but the state party veered in a very different direction in today’s gubernatorial primary, picking controversial Trump-backed state Representative Geoff Diehl over businessman Chris Doughty, who is more in the mold of retiring Republican Governor Charlie Baker and past Republican governors such as Mitt Romney.

With 89% of the vote counted as of Wednesday morning, Diehl led Doughty 56% to 44%.

Diehl will face state Attorney General Maura Healey, who is running unopposed on the Democratic side.

Diehl is a vocal opponent of vaccine mandates who promised to rehire the roughly 1,000 state workers who were fired by Baker for not getting the vaccine. “I’m going to hire back every single one of those fired state employees on day one,” Diehl said during a debate.

“And on day two,” he added, “I'm going to make sure that nobody is in my administration that thought that was a good idea.”

Diehl’s right-wing positions are “well outside the mainstream” in Massachusetts, said Robert Boatright, a political science professor at Clark University in Worcester. Diehl has a 100% rating from Massachusetts Citizens for Life and a 92% rating from the NRA and has called the 2020 election results “highly suspicious.”

With Tuesday's result, Massachusetts Republicans are following a national trend of backing Trump-approved candidates rather than those who are more congenial to the party establishment.

“The institutional Massachusetts GOP is wildly out of step with the party’s voters,” said Erin O’Brien, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “You’re seeing a hostile takeover of the party. It’s wild.”

In the race for lieutenant governor, Diehl’s running mate, former state Representative Leah Cole Allen — who is unvaccinated and lost her nursing job because of it — narrowly beat Doughty’s running mate, state Representative Kate Campanale. The race wasn't called until late Wednesday morning.

Diehl’s success appears to be the result of genuine ideological fervor rather than campaign outlays. In July he spent only $140,000 and had less than $43,000 on hand, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, in contrast to the largely self-funded Doughty who spent $500,000 and still had $1 million in the bank.

But both candidates are dwarfed by Healey, who reported $5.5 million in campaign cash.

Healey, who graduated from Harvard and was the starting point guard for a professional basketball team in Austria before going to law school, became the country’s first openly gay state attorney general after she was elected in 2014. If she wins in the fall she’ll be the first openly lesbian governor (although she could share that title with Tina Kotek, who is running in Oregon).

In the state ranked by Gallup as the most Democratic in the country — both of its senators and all nine U.S. representatives are Democrats — Healey is strongly favored in general election polls.

“She’s running a very conservative race,” said Anne Quirk, a member of the Belmont, Massachusetts, Democratic Town Committee. “She’s the frontrunner and she doesn’t want to screw that up. She’s not even denouncing Charlie Baker.”

In her acceptance speech, though, Healey took aim at Diehl, saying he wanted to “bring Trumpism to Massachusetts” and casting the election as a choice between “dividing people and delivering for people.”

In the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll defeated state Senator Eric Lesser, who was an economic advisor to President Barack Obama, and state Representative Tami Gouveia, a progressive who was endorsed by the state teachers’ unions. Driscoll won about 47% of the vote.

If Healey and Driscoll both win in November, it will be the first time in history that a state has elected a female governor and a female lieutenant governor at the same time.

In the Democratic contest to succeed Healey as attorney general, former Boston City Council Member Andrea Campbell defeated class-action attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan. If she’s elected in the fall, Campbell will be the first Black woman elected to statewide office in Massachusetts. 

The race had split the state’s top Democrats. Campbell was endorsed by Healey, U.S. Senator Ed Markey and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. Liss-Riordan, who spent $9.3 million of her own funds on the campaign, was supported by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu.

Secretary of State William Galvin won his own primary, easily crushing progressive NAACP official Tanisha Sullivan to retain the job he has held since 1995.

Galvin had predicted a 12% increase in turnout from 2018 and expected voting to be especially heavy in Essex County, where there were a number of contested local races. However, “it’s been dead as a doornail,” reported one poll worker in Gloucester, in the heart of the county, Tuesday. 

Early voting was also anemic, said Jim Coleman, an election warden. And in a heavily Democratic state, “the primary is often more important than the general election,” he noted. 

At another precinct across town that usually draws 500 to 600 voters for primary elections, fewer than 70 had shown up by mid-day. 

While it might be assumed that the current partisan environment would energize voters, it’s possible that it’s turning them off and making them feel disaffected. “I voted, but I don’t feel good about it,” said Tim Bell of Gloucester. 

“The problem is trust,” he said. “You can’t trust politicians anymore. All you get is B.S.” 

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