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What To Watch For At This Weekend’s Mass GOP Convention

Republicans from across Massachusetts will gather for the state party convention this weekend in Worcester.

Despite the tumult of national politics in 2018, political consultant Tony Cignoli says the Massachusetts Republican Party has its eyes on the prize.

“I think that the party here keeps doing what it does," said Cignoli. "They pretty much ignore Trump, ignore Washington for the most part. They’re not expending significant or serious effort in U.S. House races or congressional races, challenging the Democratic Massachusetts delegation. They’re focusing on reelecting Charlie Baker, they’re focusing on being on that bandwagon to make — to get into any kind of opportunity they can out of Baker-Polito, they know that’s their ticket, that’s their gig.”

Republican Governor Charlie Baker is seeking a second term with his Lieutenant Governor, Karyn Polito.

“Smart, sharp players behind the scenes in the Republican Party in Massachusetts, they all know that if Baker wins reelection — and he probably will, handily at this point — if he wins reelection he can be a different kind of governor in the second term," said Cignoli. "He can be a little more conservative. He can be a little more true to his own fiscal conservative beliefs than he could have been in the first term where you have to be careful and worry about reelection in a state that’s filled with independents, and unenrolled, and Democrats — much more so than Republicans.”

Of the state’s approximately 4.5 million registered voters, less than 500,000 are Republicans. Democrats make up over 1.5 million and unenrolled voters almost 2.5 million.

While the Baker-Polito ticket is almost certain to win GOP backing this weekend, it won’t be without some opposition from the party’s far right.

“There are probably some who are probably looking for fireworks from the Rev. Scott Lively, given his kind of bombastic style, his background, his beliefs," said Cignoli. "You never know what’s going to happen with a candidate like him. Certainly it’s not thought that he’s going to get his 15 percent to stay in the governor’s race, but you don’t know what happens with he and his group of supporters.”

Lively is an evangelical church leader known for his staunch opposition to gay rights. He ran for governor as an independent in 2014.

“The most interesting and highlight of the convention will be the battle for the nomination to take on Elizabeth Warren," said Republican analyst Gene Hartigan. He’s following the GOP’s efforts to field a candidate against Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is running for a second term.

“You have three people who are raising money — some using their own,” said Hartigan.

John Kingston is a wealthy businessman running a self-financed campaign.

“I think Mr. Kingston has a hard time to make a case because so few people know him, and I think if he makes the ballot, I will be surprised," said Hartigan. "But, he may get on.”

Geoff Diehl is also running. He’s a four-term state representative from the 7th Plymouth District and a vocal Trump supporter.

“I think the only thing that Geoff Diehl has to worry about is a one-on-one with the other contender in the race,” said Hartigan.

Beth Lindstrom is that other contender. While she hasn’t held political office, she managed Scott Brown’s successful bid for Senate in 2010 when he upset Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley in the special election after Ted Kennedy’s death.

“If Beth Lindstrom walks out of that convention with a higher percentage than Geoff Diehl, I will be very surprised. The rank and file, the base of the Republican Party right now, I think is a little more conservative, the activists. So I think Geoff Diehl will do very well. Her only goal should be to get the minimum to get on the ballot and not try to be all things to all people," said Hartigan. "That’s not going to help her.”

Tyler Hastings, chairman emeritus of the Berkshire County Republican Association, is also following the Senate primary. He says it’s hard to call.

“Last update I had, a lot of the small donors are running toward Geoff Diehl, but at the same time John Kingston is mounting a very strong challenge," said Hastings. "Diehl is under fire because he was a Democrat at one time, whereas Kingston at least as far as I know was a Republican for a long time. So you have ideological purity versus really a record in public office. To my knowledge, Kingston hasn’t held elected office before.”

As far as the Berkshires are concerned, it’s a predictably slow year for GOP candidates.

“Pretty much the only one we’ve got a Republican challenger in locally is Bob Hickey for Clerk of Courts in Pittsfield,” said Hastings.

Coverage of the Mass GOP state convention will continue through the weekend from the DCU Center in Worcester.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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