AMY CARNEVALE of Marblehead won a second-ballot victory Tuesday night to become chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party, edging incumbent Jim Lyons of Andover by a margin of 37-34.
Carnevale’s victory gives her control of a party that took a drubbing in November and faces a long road back to both financial and political relevance in Massachusetts. She is hopeful that Republicans who deserted the party under Lyons will now return with financial and political support. She said many have promised to do so.
“The party tonight took a fresh start and a fresh approach to get back to a strategy of trying to win elections and try to get Republicans elected to all kinds of offices,” she said. “Clearly the vote was a signal that our party is going to take a different track moving ahead.”
Both Carnevale and Lyons have voted twice for Trump; Lyons will probably support Trump again, while Carnevale said she hasn’t made up her mind whether to support him a third time and now, as state party chair, will remain neutral. Carnevale said she wants the state party to support Republican candidates in Massachusetts wherever they fall on the political spectrum, while Lyons said he was determined to fashion a party and a slate of candidates built around conservative ideals.
“We’re a divided party,” Lyons said in an interview after the vote. “The past is trying to grab on to what we took over and they don’t want to let go. I think moving forward the people of Massachusetts have to decide whether they want to see a conservative Republican Party. … Today this committee decided they wanted to deal with the Baker-Weld [political approach]. My philosophy is the Reagan-Trump.”
In a fiery speech to committee members at the massive Apex Entertainment Center in Marlborough, Lyons said grassroots Republicans are upset with the leftward drift of party leaders and the party needs to target them by running conservative candidates in races for school committees and select boards.
“Folks, it won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” he told the committee members. “I want to be a party that stands with Ronald Reagan’s conservatism, stands with Donald Trump’s patriotism.”
He quoted Teddy Roosevelt (the man in the arena “marred by dust and sweat and blood”) and Winston Churchill (“never give in”).
“I will stand and fight in the arena and I will never quit fighting for life, liberty, and freedom,” he said.
At times he sounded as if he was at war with the Boston Globe, which he said wants two parties in Massachusetts sharing only one ideology, an apparent reference to former governor Charlie Baker who many Lyons supporters called a RINO, or Republican in name only.
Lyons was elected party chair in 2019 by a margin of 47-30 and reelected in 2021 by a margin of 39-36. His politics on abortion, gay rights, immigrants, and a host of other issues were out of step with most Massachusetts residents, but he attracted support from Republicans tired of forsaking their values to run for office. Many in the audience who were not members of the state committee sported Trump hats and backed Lyons.
Carnevale, 51, who has worked on Capitol Hill and is a lobbyist, said her approach will be very different from the one espoused by Lyons. “I’ll take a little bit of a softer approach and try to reach those unenrolled voters,” she said. “Our enrollment is down under 9 percent so clearly we need to reach out to unenrolled voters to get Republicans joining our party.”
That’s exactly what Charlie Baker did, particularly after he was shunned by his own party in Massachusetts. He reached out to voters across the political spectrum and raised considerable money for a super PAC that has provided financial support to moderate Republicans and Democrats.
Carnevale indicated Baker was unlikely to become active again in Massachusetts politics, given his new job with the NCAA. But she said she will be reaching out to his supporters seeking their help and their financial support.
Many candidates mounted campaigns for party chair, but only three appeared on the ballot Tuesday night – Carnevale, Lyons, and Elizabeth Childs of Brookline. Carnevale won 34 votes on the first ballot, Lyons 33, and Childs 5. On the second ballot, Childs dropped out and Carnevale picked up the three votes needed to win while Lyons gained only one. One person who voted on the first ballot did not vote in the second.