WHILE THE PUBLIC is focused on the race for president, way down the ballot in the Massachusetts primary is a shadowy fight for control of the state Republican Party.
The fight appears to be largely between Republicans loyal to Gov. Charlie Baker and Republicans loyal to GOP state party chairman Jim Lyons, one of President Trump’s strongest supporters in Massachusetts. Lyons beat out a Baker ally for the chairmanship of the party in 2019 and now the pro-Baker forces are out to regain power.
What makes this struggle interesting is that typical campaign rules don’t apply. The 80 races for state committee posts (40 women and 40 men) are not subject to oversight by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, so candidates and their supporters are free to anonymously campaign for and against others without disclosing who they are, how much they are spending, or where their money comes from.
Janet Leombruno, an incumbent committeewoman from Framingham, said in a recent Facebook post that “they are savaging the current State Committee with outrageous and disgusting lies.”
Patricia Saint Aubin, the incumbent committeewoman from Norfolk, is particularly incensed at a mailer sent around by a group identifying itself as Keep America Great HQ based in South Easton. The mailer suggests she has broken a series of promises to Republicans in Massachusetts and holds her responsible for the loss in 2018 of the Senate seat held by Republican Richard Ross. The mailer even features a sketch of Trump saying, “Patty, you’re fired.”
Saint Aubin, a Trump delegate, cannot believe it. She says Ross, a close friend, lost his race to Sen. Becca Rausch of Needham largely because he became gravely ill toward the end of the campaign. “It’s very sleazy,” Saint Aubin said of the mailer. “These are Republicans we’re running against.”
Saint Aubin declined to say who she thinks is behind the attacks on her, but other Republican sources blame Baker and his allies.
The use of Trump references in the attacks is particularly galling because many in the state GOP are furious that Baker refuses to support Trump and is currently aligned with a super PAC that is supporting Democrats and Republicans and even backing Republicans he favors in primary races against other Republicans.
Rep. Shawn Dooley, who, like Saint Aubin, hails from Norfolk and is also running for the state committee, appears to be in the thick of the fight. He is backing Saint Aubin’s opponent, Catherine Roman of North Attleborough, and has been outspoken that she is the one being treated unfairly. “We need to show the bullies and liars that their fake ads and lying robocalls won’t work,” he said in a Facebook post.
In a letter seeking support for his state committee campaign, Dooley raised some of the same issues that were contained in the anti-Saint Aubin mailer. He lamented the loss of Ross’s seat to “an ultra-liberal progressive activist. This would NEVER have happened if people did their jobs! Therefore we NEED new leadership for our party and it is time to vote for people with fresh ideas and and renewed energy!”
Dooley could not be reached for comment.
Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat who oversees elections in the state, said some sort of regulation should be brought to these state committee political fights. He said a limited liability company (Red Massachusetts Green Action) is funding much of the current campaign activity, something that would not be allowed in a normal race subject to state oversight.
“There should be some regulation as to sources [of funding] and disclosure,” Galvin said.