BOTH OF THE Republican candidates for governor achieved their goals at the Republican state convention Saturday in Springfield – and they did it without ever mentioning the popular GOP incumbent they are seeking to replace, Charlie Baker.
At a convention where delegates appeared to tilt toward the right, Geoff Diehl, a strong supporter of Donald Trump, cruised to an easy victory, capturing 71 percent of the delegate vote.
Businessman Chris Doughty, who said his goal was to obtain the 15 percent support he needed to see his name appear on the primary ballot, won 29 percent of the vote.
The convention tally means Diehl and his running mate Leah Allen are the endorsed candidates of the state GOP, but Doughty and his running mate, Kate Campanale, live to fight another day.
Baker, ostensibly the party’s standard-bearer as an incumbent two-term governor, didn’t appear at the convention. Neither of the two Republican candidates for governor mentioned him in their remarks, and Diehl slammed a number of state policies that are associated with Baker, including a vaccine mandate for state workers.
“On day one [of my term as governor], I pledge to rehire all state workers fired because of the vaccine mandate,” Diehl said to shouts of support. “On day two, we’ll give a pink slip to everyone who thought that was a good idea.”
Diehl also said he would send the state’s National Guard to the country’s border with Mexico to put a stop to undocumented immigrants coming into the country.
He also said Massachusetts needs someone like him to end the leftward drift in the state. “Massachusetts should not be a testing ground for outrageous liberal experiments,” he said.
Asked specifically after his victory what he thought Baker’s legacy in Massachusetts politics would be, Diehl was fairly diplomatic.
“I think he did the best he could,” Diehl told reporters. “Leah and I have had some experience on Beacon Hill. We’ve seen where we can make some more improvements and we’re looking to enhancing on that record.”
Doughty is in an awkward situation. The state Republican Party is drifting to the right under party chair Jim Lyons and Doughty doesn’t quite fit in. He has tried to appeal to conservatives while not alienating more moderate Republicans and unenrolled voters – and sometimes his message has come across a bit muddled.
In an interview at the convention, Doughty emphasized his business background and his ability as a manager to tackle tough problems. He said he was eager to tackle problems with the schools and the MBTA.
Asked why he didn’t mention Baker in his speech to the delegates, Doughty said his focus was not on politics. “In my mind, it’s not the political leaders, it’s the people,” he said.
One of Doughty’s supporters said privately that the candidate is walking a tightrope in trying to appeal to the conservative elements of the party. “He’s trying to get 15 percent in a roomful of Trumpers,” she said.
Doughty, of Wrentham, built a manufacturing business called Capstan Industries that employs 300 people. He is a Mormon who attended Brigham Young University as an undergraduate and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. His run for governor is his first run for political office.
Those who nominated Doughty at the convention said his biggest selling point is his potential to appeal to the broad middle in Massachusetts politics – much as Baker has done.
Both Taunton Mayor Shauna O’Connell and Rep. Michael Soter of Bellingham introduced Doughty as the Republican candidate who has a chance of winning in November.
Diehl is a veteran of Massachusetts politics. He served as a state representative for nine years, helped lead a ballot question to derail efforts to raise the state’s gas tax by linking it to inflation, and ran against Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2018, winning 36 percent of the vote and losing by 24 percentage points.
Diehl said he learned a lot running statewide against Warren and he plans to build on that. He also said the pandemic has changed voting patterns in Massachusetts.
“People right now are looking for something outside of Beacon Hill that hasn’t really found a solution for a lot of things,” he said.
Diehl didn’t mention Trump much in his convention remarks, saying the delegates know his background. “They all know who I’ve supported. They know my opponent supported Hilary Clinton in 2016. None of that’s a secret,” Diehl said, without mentioning that he registered as a Democrat and supported a number of Democratic candidates in the late 1990s