Geoff Diehl, a Republican former state representative from Whitman and 2018 challenger to US Senator Elizabeth Warren, announced on the Fourth of July that he is running for governor, making him the first Republican to enter the race.
Diehl, 52, made the announcement during a holiday “Freedom Festival” barbeque in Hadley organized by the Western Mass GOP Patriots Political Action Committee, according to his campaign manager, Amanda Orlando.
In a statement Sunday evening, Diehl pledged that as a candidate in the 2022 race, he will be “backing the blue,” indicating his support for law enforcement personnel, and said it is “time to re-empower the individual.”
“It is time for a new path forward . . . It is time to free our economy,” he said. “It is time to help our children overcome the damage inflicted by government over this past year. A time to provide our communities with a safe and healthy tomorrow.”
Diehl was not available for an interview Sunday, Orlando said.
Diehl’s bid sets up a possible primary faceoff with Republican Governor Charlie Baker, who has not definitively said whether he will seek a third term. If Baker stays out of the race, many expect Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito would seek the Republican nomination.
Baker’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday evening.
Diehl was cochair for former president Donald Trump’s Massachusetts campaign during the 2016 presidential election. As a Senate candidate in 2018, Diehl, a conservative Republican, campaigned as a Trump supporter who would champion his policies in the Senate. He emerged as the party’s candidate to face Warren, who ultimately won reelection.
A political observer said Diehl’s conservative brand and association with Trump did him no favors in his last statewide election in 2018, and his bid for the governor’s office could prompt the more moderate Baker to enter the race.
“Anyone who thought Charlie Baker wouldn’t run, I think this makes it more likely that he will run,” said Erin O’Brien, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “This makes Baker’s victory more likely. Even if he ran as an independent he’d win because Massachusetts voters don’t have a taste for Trump Republicans.”
Baker, one of the most popular governors in the country, has won over Democrats and independents with his moderate policies, which are out of step with the national Republican party’s. Diehl’s policies, more in line with the national GOP’s, could be a harder sell in Massachusetts, O’Brien said.
“Geoff Diehl’s problem is he doesn’t live in Alabama,” she said. “Parts of the party establishment might want to move in the direction of Trump, but look at the State House — it’s all Democrats for the most part. Baker stands out as an anomaly in Massachusetts, so why would Diehl want to challenge him?”
Whoever emerges as the Republican nominee for governor will face one of several Democrats who have already declared their candidacies. State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, former state senator Ben Downing, and Harvard professor Danielle Allen have each launched their campaigns.
O’Brien said Diehl’s announcement and the possibility of a primary against Baker is bad news for the Democratic candidates, as well.
“They’re running on the idea that Baker isn’t good enough, don’t settle for Baker, but now Charlie Baker is running against something,” she said. “It’s harder to paint Baker into that corner if his primary challenger is a Trump Republican.”
Diehl represented Plymouth’s Seventh District from 2011 to 2019.
On Sunday, while speaking to supporters in Hadley, Diehl criticized the state government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the decision to close businesses, which he said favored large corporations and chains over locally owned shops.
“The pandemic response of a total shut down of the economy, followed by arbitrary federal, state, and local regulations only made it harder for the small businesses to stay alive, especially in the restaurant and hospitality industries,” Diehl told the audience, according to the statement.
“And I remain mystified how the big box stores like Home Depot remained open while your local hardware store was forced to close. Let that chapter of our state’s history remain a powerful example of what can never happen again.”