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The Boston Globe

Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Can state GOP find a winning candidate?

globe staff and wire services/istockphoto/globe staff illustration

Attention, Bay State voters. Top Republicans in Massachusetts are plotting their 2014 victory strategy.

That wasn’t meant as a joke. But given the track record around here for GOP defeat, it comes across as one.

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In Massachusetts, is a top Republican anything like a jumbo shrimp? And if so, can any one of them win a major election in this state?

Ron Kaufman, the Republican National Committeeman who dates back to the George H.W. Bush era, told Globe reporter Jim O’Sullivan that a recent meeting of allegedly influential GOP minds included “a list of people who really can impact elections in the state.”

In the room or on the phone were former Governor Bill Weld, who last won election in 1994; Charles D. Baker, the GOP’s losing 2010 gubernatorial candidate; Scott Brown, the GOP’s losing 2012 senatorial candidate; and Eric Fehrnstrom, Peter Flaherty, and Beth Myers, key members of the local brain trust behind Mitt Romney’s losing 2012 presidential campaign.

Fehrnstrom also played a somewhat mysterious role in the recent special Senate election showdown between Democrat Ed Markey and Republican rookie candidate Gabriel Gomez. On the night Gomez lost to Markey by 10 points, Fehrnstrom tweeted that the GOP newcomer has a future in Massachusetts politics “as a battle-tested GOP candidate for statewide office in 2014.”

Asked for follow-up thoughts, Fehrnstrom replied via e-mail that Gomez “ran a decent, credible campaign . . . as a newcomer against an entrenched longtime politician. He has a future in Massachusetts politics if he wants it.” He went on to say that the best path for Gomez “would be to shoot for state office.”

According to the Globe report on the GOP 2014 victory strategy, that translates into a possible Gomez run for state treasurer.

It all sounds somewhat delusional, making it easy for Democrats to chortle at the sorry state of Republican politics in Massachusetts.

After all, former state Senator Richard Tisei — who ran for lieutenant governor on the losing Baker gubernatorial ticket — couldn’t beat US Representative John Tierney — an incumbent Democrat whose wife and brother-in-law were convicted of federal tax law fraud in connection with a gambling ring. And Tisei lost even though Tierney’s district went to Brown over Elizabeth Warren.

That’s because issues trumped the personal in the Tisei-Tierney race. Tierney used a version of the same argument Warren used against Brown, and Markey then used against Gomez: a vote for a Bay State Republican equals a vote for the national Republican agenda, which is highly unpopular in Massachusetts. Indeed, as long as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell symbolize that national agenda, it is hard to imagined Massachusetts voters trusting any Republican to represent them in Washington.

That leaves the state level, where the issues might have a better shot at cycling back to the Republican/independent perspective. That’s what you want to believe if you’re part of the GOP brain trust in Massachusetts.

Of course, Democrats do ponder the inevitability of the pendulum swing. How else to explain the refusal of those who control the House and Senate to go along with Governor Deval Patrick’s entire tax package? Patrick isn’t running for reelection, and without his charisma at the top of the ticket Democrats will have to answer for, as Fehrnstrom said, “one-party monopoly, the standstill economy, and the never-ending parade of higher taxes.” With grass-roots guru John Walsh departing as head of the Democratic state committee, who will get the faithful out to vote on election day?

For the Republicans, a successful candidate needs more than a resume and Ferhnstrom-supplied talking points. Gomez proved that. His smile and flight jacket were promising in theory, but couldn’t hide his lack of ease with the issues. Baker radiates issues, but last time around, he never found an appealing way to talk about them

Brown for governor? After Washington, would a room with a view of the Frog Pond be such a big deal?

A victory strategy needs a candidate who can win and really wants to run. Finding that candidate is no joke for Massachusetts Republicans. That’s the hard task ahead of them.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
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