BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Republicans are in a quandary over President Donald Trump as they prepare for this weekend’s biennial state party convention.
The state’s popular Republican governor, Charlie Baker, has distanced himself from the president as have other GOP moderates, seeing little to gain and much to lose politically from siding with Trump in a midterm election year when Republicans face perils nationwide — let alone in solidly blue Massachusetts.
Still, Trump did win the state’s Republican primary handily in 2016 and received slightly more than 1 million votes, or about 32 percent, in the general election. Much of the backing comes from conservatives who comprise a small portion of the state’s overall electorate but a healthy chunk of the party’s activist base that could make its presence felt at Saturday’s gathering in Worcester.
“Unfortunately, the (Massachusetts) GOP is trying to turn the Republican party into being more of a wing or an arm of the Democratic party in this state,” said Mary Lou Daxland, president of the staunchly conservative Massachusetts Republican Assembly. “So there is the divide right there.”
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Division seems hardly what Republicans need in a state where Democrats hold every congressional seat and statewide office, with the notable exception of Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.
Kirsten Hughes, chair of the Massachusetts GOP, said regardless of any differences she expects delegates to leave convention “energized and excited.”
Among several Republicans hoping to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in November is state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who served as co-chair of Trump’s Massachusetts campaign.
“I think a lot of people in Massachusetts appreciate what his goals have been, which is to strengthen the economy, strengthen our military … and put the interests of American businesses first in international trade deals,” said Diehl, who is widely viewed as the favorite to win the convention endorsement.
Under party rules, candidates who are not endorsed must get at least 15 percent of the delegates to qualify for the September primary ballot and the chance to make their case to a larger pool of Republican voters.
Advancing to the primary is the stated goal for two other candidates, Beth Lindstrom and John Kingston.
Lindstrom, a onetime party official and cabinet secretary under former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, has largely stayed neutral when it comes to Trump.
“My real opponent is not my fellow Republicans, it’s Elizabeth Warren,” Lindstrom said in an email, describing the incumbent as out of touch with the state’s voters.
Kingston, a self-described “political outsider,” said in a recent statement that the Republican nominee must be “demonstrably independent” from Trump — much like Baker is — to have a shot in Massachusetts.
The former business executive strongly opposed Trump’s nomination in 2016, even leading an unsuccessful effort to recruit an independent candidate to run against both Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Baker is expected to easily win the GOP endorsement for a second term as governor, though he, too, has drawn some resentment within the party.
Baker has said he did not vote for Trump in the 2016 election after questioning his “temperament” for the White House, and has often criticized administration policy. He’s also worked cooperatively with Democratic legislative leaders and enjoys high poll numbers among independent voters who make up more than half the state’s electorate.
Many conservatives, according to Daxland, feel betrayed by Baker and were “furious” when the governor, citing previous scheduling commitments, recently skipped an opportunity to greet Mike Pence during a brief visit to Massachusetts by the vice president.
Baker’s sole Republican challenger is Scott Lively, a Springfield minister who ran for governor as an independent four years ago, garnering less than 1 percent of the vote.
Lively tells supporters he’s seeking a “family-centered, virtue seeking, ethically honorable society.” He received notoriety for being sued by an East African advocacy group that accused him of waging a campaign to persecute gays in Uganda. He also needs at least 15 percent to continue his longshot candidacy.
Peter Ubertaccio, a Stonehill College professor who closely watches state politics, said while there’s always some division at conventions, Trump ratchets up the tension a bit for Republicans.
Some, like Diehl, may benefit from his association with the president, Ubertaccio said, “but if you’re running on a pro-Trump platform in Massachusetts in 2018 you are not really running to win in November.”