The two Republican candidates for governor faced off Wednesday in a pointed debate, with Wrentham businessman Chris Doughty pitching himself as well-suited to juice Massachusetts’ economy and former Whitman state lawmaker Geoff Diehl presenting himself as a proven conservative who will fight and win culture-war battles.
The hourlong radio forum featured several sharp exchanges. Diehl, a conservative backed by former president Donald Trump, framed Doughty, who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, as insufficiently loyal to the Republican Party. Doughty framed Diehl as a sure loser in the general election who is “running an Alabama campaign in Massachusetts.”
The race, the only competitive gubernatorial primary for Massachusetts residents to decide, is effectively a battle between the two wings of the state party. Diehl supporters cite his loyalty to Trump and his conservative views on immigration, COVID-19 mandates, and what children are being taught in schools, while Doughty supporters point to his record running a manufacturing company and compare him to more moderate GOP leaders like Mitt Romney and Charlie Baker.
During the debate, moderated by conservative radio host Howie Carr, Doughty said his experience running his company will translate to weeding out bureaucracy and “wasteful regulation.”
“I am a job creator, not a career politician,” he said in his opening remarks. “I am going to treat state government just as I treated my own business.”
Diehl drew on his experience serving four terms as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature and emphasized his involvement in a successful 2014 ballot campaign that repealed part of a 2013 law that created increases in the state gas tax tied to the rate of inflation.
After his fourth term, Diehl won a three-way GOP primary for US Senate in 2018. He lost by 24 points to Elizabeth Warren and had failed in a bid for state Senate three years earlier.
“[Democrats] will do nothing to provide relief to the people of Massachusetts,” he said. “We need to make sure you have someone who has a track record of trying to make sure the money comes back and also lowers taxes.”
Diehl underscored his support for parents who fear their children are being taught “inappropriate material” in the classroom, and for police — positions he has repeated on the campaign trail and heralded in May at the state Republican Party’s convention, where he won the GOP endorsement.
Both candidates were asked whether they would evoke Baker’s leadership style or that of Trump, who has called the current governor a “RINO,” or “Republican in name only.”
Diehl, who said he supported Baker in his previous campaigns, said he wants to replicate the governor’s goals of making government more efficient but would do so “with a strong hand . . . unafraid to take on powers that be, whether it was the Democrats or whether it was the media.”
Doughty said he supports Baker’s stances on tax policy but would bring a more competitive spirit to the State House to court businesses into coming to Massachusetts. He also credited Trump for his trade policies, which Doughty said positively impacted his business.
Diehl, who’s trumpeted Trump’s false claims the 2020 election was rigged, and Doughty face long odds at topping the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, Attorney General Maura Healey. The South End Democrat is now effectively uncontested in the Sept. 6 primary after her last remaining opponent exited the race, though state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz’s name will remain on the ballot.
Doughty, who is mostly self-funding his campaign, leads Diehl in fund-raising, but Diehl has led Doughty in the polls.
Whoever wins the GOP primary will face Healey on Nov. 8.
But the Republicans may not face each other again. Doughty said Diehl hadn’t agreed to any other primary debates.
Samantha J. Gross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.