Attorney General Maura Healey, who rocketed to prominence as the state’s litigator-in-chief against Donald Trump before clearing the Democratic field for governor this year, officially captured the party’s nomination Tuesday, setting up an acrid general election fight with Geoff Diehl, a Trump acolyte whom GOP voters embraced as their gubernatorial nominee.
The results, projected by the Associated Press Tuesday night, cement the general election race to succeed Governor Charlie Baker, the state’s second-term Republican who is not seeking reelection.
The matchup will top a ballot of potentially history-making races. Healey’s endorsed successor, Andrea Campbell, emerged victorious in a primary for attorney general to become the first Black woman ever to win a Democratic nomination for a statewide office.
Healey will run with Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, who emerged from a three-way primary for lieutenant governor. If elected, they would be the first all-female executive team to ever sit in the corner office.
Diehl, a former state lawmaker and past US Senate nominee, won the Republican nomination over Chris Doughty, a first-time, largely self-funded candidate, after promising a conservative vision that hews far closer to that of Trump and the national GOP than Baker, the state party’s longtime moderate standard-bearer.
Tuesday’s results were expected to bring to an end a strange — and in some ways, unpredictable — primary season in Massachusetts, where turnover is ensured for many of the state’s highest elected offices. That includes the corner office, where Healey enters the nine-week sprint to the Nov. 8 election as a clear front-runner.
The South End Democrat is buoyed by more than $4.7 million in her campaign account — Diehl began the month with less than $17,000 — and an unprecedented primary in which she didn’t have an active foe for the last two months, allowing her to skate relatively unscathed through a usually bruising intraparty process.
The 51-year-old is vying to become not only the first woman elected governor in Massachusetts and one of the first openly lesbian governors in the country, but also just the second Democrat to hold the office in Massachusetts since 1991.
“As your next governor, I promise you I will lead with my head and with my heart,” Healey told supporters at a Dorchester union hall Tuesday. Diehl, she said, would “bring Trumpism to Massachusetts.”
“The choice in this election couldn’t be more clear,” she said. “It’s a choice between partisanship and progress; between dividing people and delivering for people.”
Diehl, speaking to reporters in a Weymouth restaurant, promised a campaign that “for the first time in our state’s history” is focused “specifically on we the people, our freedoms, our rights and our prosperity.”
“I declare Maura Healey to be the people’s worst nightmare, and I’m here to stop her from ever bringing her radical policies to the governor’s office,” he said as the crowd shouted “Real Diehl” in response.
Tuesday’s results immediately set up a gubernatorial fight defined by its dichotomy. In Diehl, Republicans have turned to a Trump-endorsed conservative who has trumpeted the former president’s bogus claims that the 2020 election was “rigged,” and has called himself “pro-life.”
“He’ll rule your state with an iron fist,” Trump told Diehl supporters during a Monday night “tele-rally.”
Healey has cut a progressive reputation, buoyed by her pursuit of nearly 100 lawsuits against the Trump administration. Her former top deputy is now the chief executive of a legal watchdog organization that, among other things, tracks candidates it considers election deniers. (Diehl is among them.) She’s been a loud advocate for reproductive health care and is endorsed by national abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Diehl, 53, wholly embraced his ties to Trump, who is two years removed from losing Massachusetts to Joe Biden by 33 points. The Whitman Republican hired Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, as a senior adviser, and wrapped himself in support from other conservative Republicans, including South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.
It’s all bolstered his pitch to be a conservative bulwark within a liberal state who, as Diehl said Monday, “wants to give you more of your freedoms.”
He painted local school boards as an obstacle for parents demanding more say over their children’s curriculum, and vowed to create a new office within the state education department to “monitor schools for the promotion of any political agenda.” He promised to hire back state workers fired for not complying with a Baker administration COVID-19 vaccine mandate — and, he said, fire those who agreed with Baker’s decision.
“Massachusetts traditionally has a Republican governor. We need to have some balance,” said Windy Winters-Harrington, a Whitman mother who runs the Parents for Diehl Facebook group.
In the GOP lieutenant governor’s race, former state lawmaker Leah Allen, who ran as Diehl’s running mate, was leading Kate Campanale, 52 to 48 percent, late Tuesday night with nearly two-thirds of the state’s votes counted.
Baker steered widely from the gubernatorial primary — he didn’t even attend the state party convention in May — and repeatedly declined to say for whom he planned to vote. And national Republican groups have given no indication they plan to get involved in a general election fight against Healey, a well-known statewide officer-holder who in July led both Republican candidates by more than 30 points in public polling.
While regarded as a progressive leader, Healey has pitched herself in pragmatic terms during the campaign, promising to be a salve for residents’ economic pain. She has vowed to “cut taxes,” a promise rooted primarily in a $400 million proposal to expand state tax credits for children and other dependents. Similar to Baker, she said she would tackle the cost of Massachusetts’ infamously expensive housing, and promised to expand vocational training.
She also supports an ambitious legislative proposal known as “Common Start” that would, for the first time, treat early education as a common good and pay for it with public funds, like K-12 public schools. A separate commission estimated it could cost as much as $1.5 billion to overhaul the state’s child care system.
“My focus is on affordability,” Healey said in an interview Monday at the Greater Boston Labor Council’s Labor Day breakfast. “We need to reduce costs.”
Healey’s time in office has been best known for her pugilism against Trump over everything from his initial travel ban to efforts to roll back environmental protections.
But she has also built a less partisan reputation fighting the opioid scourge, including suing OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma. As a gubernatorial candidate, she said she would usher in change — she vowed, for example, to overhaul leadership at the troubled MBTA — but without overtly criticizing Baker, who’s remained widely popular over his nearly eight years in office.
In celebrating her victory Tuesday, she thanked Baker for his service, saying he “refused to engage in the politics of division and destruction.”
A New Hampshire native, Healey attended Harvard, and played basketball professionally overseas before returning to the United States, earning a law degree from Northeastern, and joining the AG’s office as an assistant attorney general in 2007. She led the first successful state challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, and led three separate divisions before running in 2014 to lead the office, upsetting a veteran Democrat in a hotly contested primary on route to winning the first of two terms and becoming the first openly gay attorney general in the country.
Diehl, a Pennsylvania native, graduated from Lehigh University before moving to his wife’s hometown of Whitman. In 2010, he was part of a Republican wave in the State House, winning the first of four terms in the Massachusetts House — a span that included leading a successful ballot question undoing a law that tied the gas tax to inflation, an unsuccessful state Senate bid in 2015, and three years later, a failed challenge to Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Doughty, who repeatedly painted Diehl as unelectable during the primary, threw his support behind the nominee after conceding Tuesday. “Our next great mission is trying to rebuild our party,” the 59-year-old Wrentham Republican said.
Some Doughty supporters, however, said they fear Diehl is headed for another loss.
“If Diehl wins this [primary], we’ll witness the implosion of the Republican Party in Massachusetts,” David Warshay, a 58-year-old software consultant said before the race was called. “These Trump Republicans have no place in this state. This isn’t Alabama. We are a state that has always been about getting things done. That’s not what Diehl is about.”
David Abel of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Simon J. Levien, Andrew Brinker, and Nick Stoico contributed to this report.