Nobody would ever confuse Boston with a Republican stronghold; the city hasn’t elected a GOP mayor since the 1920s, and these days the party almost never bothers even to run a candidate in mayoral or city council elections. This year, all five major candidates are Democrats.
Still, almost half of Boston’s voters backed Republican Charlie Baker for governor in 2018. Even Donald Trump won 45,000 votes in the city, about 15 percent of the electorate, with clusters of support in South Dorchester, West Roxbury, and South Boston.
With this year’s preliminary mayoral campaign entering its final days, and polls predicting an extremely close race, those numbers loom large. Boston might not have enough Republicans or Republican-leaning voters to actually elect a mayor — but it’s still a rich, often-overlooked trove of votes that could help boost one of those Democrats.
Openly courting Republican votes, of course, carries risk, since it could antagonize far more numerous Democrats. But Republicans are choosing sides, in ways that reflect their own divisions.
Jennifer Nassour, the former chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party and former Boston City Council candidate, is a self-described social progressive who supports abortion rights and gay marriage. Nassour believes many voters in the city who identify as Republicans are unenrolled, a group that makes up 45 percent of registered voters. Yet, she said, “it always seems like issues are skewed all the way to the left. But we [Republicans] are here, and we have issues that are important to us that aren’t political . . . . It’s quality-of-life issues. You cannot put a political party on quality of life.”
Nassour is openly supporting Andrea Campbell for mayor. As for how her Republican fellows will vote, she said that she encourages them, “[E]ven if you can’t get a candidate who is exactly like you in all policies, it’s important to find a candidate who represents the character of the person you’d like to see in office.”
Nassour said she has hosted virtual house parties with her friends, who are “probably unenrolled and lean more right-of-center,” she said. “I think their interests in the city are education, housing, making sure that our roads are safe, that our streets are safe, making sure that quality of life is good.”
But not every GOP voter would fit in at one of Nassour’s house parties. Perhaps the most passionate, or at least the most identifiable, shade of Republican voter is the Trump supporter. Consider one of the superPACs backing councilor Annissa Essaibi George, Real Progress Boston, which is led by former Boston Police commissioner William Gross. Its top donors: police unions and Jim Davis, the New Balance chairman who donated almost $400,000 to Trump in 2016. This week, Essaibi George sought to distance herself from the PAC, telling the Dorchester Reporter that she’s “not happy” about the PAC’s ties to Trump.
Then there’s the perennial candidate for mayor in the city, Robert Cappucci, who also made Tuesday’s ballot. The last time Cappucci ran, in 2017, he drew nearly 7 percent of votes, or roughly 3,700. The retired Boston police officer and former elected school committee member is a conservative Democrat, but his positions may be more aligned with those of a Republican voter: He is antiabortion and also against sanctuary cities.
Cappucci may very well earn the vote of Trump supporters in Boston. But those voters may not represent the traditional Republican view.
“I think that most Republicans like myself who happen to be super invested in the city are going to vote for a mayor who’s going to be there in the long term,” Nassour said. “We want to make sure the mayor is going to be responsive to what we want as residents of the city despite the letter next to our name. Someone who is not in bed with the unions and someone who is not opportunistic. Someone who really truly knows the hardships of the city.”
Although they’re hardly unified, Boston Republicans are the largely silent voting minority that may tip the scale in Tuesday’s preliminary election.