The Republican Party, in its struggle to be competitive in Massachusetts, has made two types of mistakes in picking candidates: the experienced party loyalist who is way too conservative for the general electorate; and the self-funding newcomer, hoping to take advantage of the party’s lack of a solid bench to jump the line. The experienced loyalist usually goes down to a quick, principled defeat, with a videotape of a debate performance and about 40 percent of the vote to show for his or her troubles. The newcomer burns bright for a moment — a fresh face, a creative approach — but the first slip-up usually spells doom: When voters know little about a candidate, and there’s no track record to speak of, it’s easy to think the worst of him or her.
As it happens, Republican primary voters this year have Senate candidates who fit each of these profiles to a T. Former US Attorney Michael Sullivan has a long resume as state representative, the elected district attorney of Plymouth County, and even a stint as head of George W. Bush’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. At 58, he evokes the peace of mind of a man who long ago committed himself to certain ideological views and isn’t inclined to rethink anything: Tough on crime, conservative on social issues, skeptical of government’s ability to solve problems, steadfast against almost every Democratic spending initiative. It’s a familiar litany, one that might put Sullivan on a path to victory in, say, North Dakota.