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OPINION

Geoff Diehl has more Trump baggage to carry with the overturning of Roe v. Wade

The Republican gubernatorial candidate’s stance is out of synch with voters, who strongly support abortion rights.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl describes himself as “pro-life” and has a 100 percent rating from Massachusetts Citizens for Life.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Sure, a Donald Trump supporter like Massachusetts Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl could beat Democrat Maura Healey in November — when elephants can flap their ears and fly in some place other than an old Disney movie.

In addition to the heavy Trump baggage he already carries in this race, Diehl must now also contend with fallout from a decision by a Trump-stacked Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade in a state that strongly supports abortion rights. A UMass Lowell poll that surveyed 1,000 voters a week before the court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization put Healey ahead of Diehl by over 30 points. Asked whether there should “definitely be a right to get an abortion in every state,” 62 percent of all voters surveyed said yes and 18 percent said probably. Those results put Healey, a longtime abortion rights advocate, in synch with voters on an issue that’s center stage across the country. The overturning of Roe, tweeted Healey, represents “a dark day in our history,” and she pledged to fight to reverse that. Meanwhile, Diehl — who describes himself as “pro-life” and has a 100 percent rating from Massachusetts Citizens for Life — looks very out of synch.

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As Republican Governor Charlie Baker quickly signed an executive order to protect Massachusetts providers who help out-of-state patients, Diehl and Leah Allen, the Republican party’s endorsed candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, issued this statement: “We both believe in protecting innocent life wherever possible and we support the Court’s decision for its proper interpretation of our Constitution, which takes the question of abortion and places it in the province of the states where it belongs.” Chris Doughty, the other Republican in the governor’s race, said he would “not seek any changes to our state’s abortion laws.”

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But just like elephants, answers like that don’t fly — not in Massachusetts, not anymore. “People know that state elections matter, especially now,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of Reproductive Equity Now (formerly NARAL Massachusetts). “We need a strong reproductive freedom champion.” She describes Diehl, the front-runner in the Republican primary race, as a “right-wing, Trump-endorsed candidate,” and said he wants to “ban abortion.” A spokeswoman for the Diehl campaign declined further comment on his position.

Republicans around the country are about to find out how big a deal the overturning of Roe turns out to be. In Massachusetts, Diehl’s stance goes up against history: Republicans who win the governor’s office support abortion rights, or at least pretend to.

In 2002, Republican Mitt Romney quelled concerns about his true stand by saying in a debate: “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose, and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard. . . . I will not change any provisions of Massachusetts’ pro-choice laws.” But Romney lost any trust he had with activists once he won election, and among other things, vetoed a bill that would have provided emergency contraceptives to victims of rape. Then, of course, as a Republican presidential candidate, Romney flipped to outright opposition to abortion.

Even Baker, who supports abortion rights, disappointed advocates when he balked at legislation allowing those who are 16 and 17 years old to get an abortion without parental consent. “I have been frustrated with some of Governor Baker’s stances on choice,” said Hart Holder. “But he’s not a lapdog of Donald Trump. Diehl is.”

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So far, Diehl’s decision to embrace Trump doesn’t seem to be an asset in Massachusetts. Why anyone believed it would be is a mystery. In 2020, Joe Biden won 65 percent of the vote against Trump, and the UMass Lowell poll still has Biden beating Trump with 60 percent of the vote in another match-up. However, voters are worried about inflation and unhappy about the direction of the country. That would seem to leave the usual opening for a Republican gubernatorial candidate who is socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

Diehl is not that candidate. If elephants don’t fly, and he ends up delivering an election night concession speech, he should also file a political malpractice suit against any consultant or activist who encouraged him to run for governor of Massachusetts as a Trumper.


Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.