NORWOOD — There was the elephant statue in the manicured gardens. A line of rare Ferraris and a shiny black replica Batmobile. A domed mausoleum.
A “Real Diehl” signature cocktail celebrating the candidate’s authenticity, with freshly squeezed orange juice, cranberry juice, and Velo vodka, a South Boston brand founded by a supporter.
And the special guest? The arch-conservative governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, who recently made national headlines by standing by her state’s near-total ban on abortions when asked whether a 10-year-old rape victim should have been forced to deliver a baby.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl’s fund-raiser on Wednesday offered a window into a different Massachusetts political universe that runs counter to stereotype — a red dot amid deep blue.
The fund-raiser for Diehl, a Donald Trump-endorsed former state representative, also showcased Massachusetts’ gravitational pull for might-be 2024 presidential hopefuls, who are desirous of the deep pockets of Bay State benefactors and the attention of first-in-the-nation voters nearby in New Hampshire.
Just last week, Diehl’s primary rival, businessman Chris Doughty, held a fund-raising event with New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, who like Noem, is thought to be mulling a run for the White House.
“Every state has some heavy-hitter donors that it’s worth being close to,” said Republican pollster Jon McHenry. “It’s worth having your name ID boosted among the medical community, the tech community, rich people in general. It’s the same reason Democrats still go to Texas.”
At the Wednesday evening soiree at the estate of auto sales magnate Ernie Boch Jr., Noem seemed to be touting herself as much as she was Diehl and his running mate, former state representative Leah Allen. She shook hands, posed for photos, and touted South Dakota’s low unemployment rate and population growth in a speech to attendees inside Boch’s “auto salon.”
And though Norwood is Joe Biden territory (he got nearly 64 percent of the vote in the town in 2020), inside the gated estate it was a world of Trump.
Massachusetts Republican Party chair Jim Lyons — known for his unflinching support of Trump, his beef with moderate Republican Governor Charlie Baker, and his success in turning the state party to the right — stood in the middle of the room with his wife, Bernadette. He sipped a pale pink “Real Diehl” cocktail.
Boch, sporting a pair of Kanye West Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2s, mingled among donors, whom he called “very nice people.” He told the Globe that he supports Diehl to keep alive the tradition of having a Republican governor, though Diehl and Baker are “a little different, but still Republican.”
Almost seven years earlier to the day, Boch had hosted a Trump rally at his estate.
Attendees on Wednesday included retired New England Patriots player Fred Smerlas and former HGTV star and Brookline home builder Cindy Stumpo. Some guests, who ponied up $1,000 a pop, slurped oysters and snacked on canapés near a bar set up among the glistening cars.
At a microphone in the front of the room, Daniel Clark, a former Massachusetts State Police officer known as the “Singing Trooper,” readied a performance.
After a smaller gathering of donors and before the larger cocktail party, Noem and Diehl spoke to a reporter and a TV news cameraman in a garden near Boch’s personal mausoleum, where Noem said Diehl “recognizes the value” of speaking to people of all political parties.
“He asks, ‘How did you do under the mandates? Did you lose your job because of a vaccine mandate?’ ” she said, pointing to Allen, the lieutenant governor hopeful and registered nurse who left her job after refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. “Are your kids crushed or hurt because they weren’t in school? Those are the people who are paying attention now. People are recognizing that leadership has consequences.”
Diehl, in turn, praised Noem’s handling of the pandemic, calling the governor who resisted lockdowns, rebuked stimulus checks, and rejected mask and vaccine mandates “outstanding.”
“The states aren’t as different as you’d think,” Diehl said, referring to ruby red South Dakota. “The big difference is their state is actually gaining population. I want to make sure we catch up to what they are doing as far as listening to people and deliver for the state of Massachusetts.”
Even so, Diehl, who has been described by a spokeswoman as “pro-life” and backed the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, held back when asked whether he supported Noem’s hard-line stance on abortion.
“I want to protect life where I can. In Massachusetts, the Legislature already took it into their hands a year before Roe v. Wade was brought down . . . to protect abortion in this state,” he said, noting that he, like Baker, disagreed with a piece that expanded the availability of later-term abortions. “Governor Noem obviously has her views on it, but the governor of Massachusetts doesn’t make that law. The Legislature makes that law. It’s my job to protect those freedoms.”
When Diehl was asked a follow-up question, Noem stepped in front of the microphone before a reporter was finished.
“Every state will make different decisions,” she said. “That’s the only conversation we are having today. . . . South Dakota’s laws may look very different than Massachusetts’, and that’s OK.”
For Trump-endorsed candidates, however, much about 2020 is the same in every state. In an interview with conservative radio host Jeff Kuhner Thursday morning, Diehl echoed elected officials like Noem, perpetuating the false claim that the 2020 election was rigged, and that Trump should have won the presidency.
The interview was a departure from a 2021 interview, when Diehl said “I don’t think it was a stolen election.”
This alignment with Trump may help Diehl in his Sept. 6 primary against Doughty, who said Biden won in 2020, but could come back to hurt Diehl later on, said veteran Massachusetts consultant Eric Fehrnstrom.
It’s what some call the “Trump axiom,” he said
“No one in the race has figured out how to solve that puzzle,” he said about Republican primaries in Massachusetts. “They have to make too many compromises to get close to Trump to win their primary. In the general, the compromises they made become indefensible.”
Both Republicans vying for governor face an uphill battle against Attorney General Maura Healey, the Democrats’ presumed nominee who holds a more than 30-percentage-point lead over both men in public polling.
On Thursday, Healey, who does not have an active primary opponent, was in Lawrence to tour a mixed-income housing development, talk job creation at a metal finishing factory, and shoot hoops with local youth who are part of a basketball nonprofit.
“I am running for governor because I believe in this state,” she said. “That’s the spirit that I bring to this campaign, in contrast to the Republicans who use the same playbook that’s been used by Trump. It’s lies, division, and there’s no place for that in Massachusetts.”