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Maura Healey wins governor’s race, as women overcome long tradition of white male political dominance

Maura Healey, governor-elect of Massachusetts.

Maura Healey, a former civil rights attorney and professional basketball player who vaulted to the national stage by suing Donald Trump and corporate giants, decisively won the race for Massachusetts governor on Tuesday, seizing the office back for Democrats on a historic night that saw women forcefully overcome a centuries-long tradition of white male political dominance.

The Democratic attorney general defeated Republican opponent Geoff Diehl to become the first woman and first openly LGBTQ person elected Massachusetts governor, and one of very few openly LGBTQ governors nationwide. Healey, 51, led an almost entirely female slate of Democrats that swept the state’s constitutional offices, firmly stomping down a wall that has taken decades to erode.

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Healey’s triumph comes alongside other historic firsts. Andrea Campbell, who was raised in Roxbury and escaped the school-to-prison pipeline that ensnared her two brothers, declared victory in the race for attorney general, becoming the first Black woman to win a statewide election here. And Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, running on the same ticket with Healey, won the race for lieutenant governor; before Tuesday, no state had elected women lieutenant governor and governor at the same time.

Despite the state’s progressive reputation, Massachusetts had previously elected just 10 women statewide in its entire history. This week it elected five in a single day, including two — Healey and Treasurer Deborah Goldberg — for a second time.

“Tonight I want to say something to every little girl and every young LGBTQ person out there,” Healey told a crowd of cheering supporters at her victory party at the Fairmont Copley in Boston. “I hope tonight shows you that you can be whatever — whoever — you want to be.”

At Diehl’s party, meanwhile, the mood seemed to dampen after Healey declared victory. Campaign organizers directed supporters to head home, saying they had the room at the Boston Harbor Hotel only for a limited time.

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“The gap that we have, it is impossible to close,” Diehl said after telling the crowd he had called Healey to congratulate her.

“Don’t concede!” one supported yelled as Diehl spoke.

But the GOP nominee was clear: “Our campaign ends today.”

The election of Healey — who is just the second Democrat to win the governor’s office in 30 years — ushers in a new era of one-party rule in Massachusetts, when the state will no longer have a centrist Republican governor as a counterweight to its more liberal Legislature. Democrats continue to hold supermajorities in the Massachusetts House and Senate, and the members of the congressional delegation — all Democrats — were all expected to easily win reelection Tuesday. But it remains to be seen whether that new partisan unity will produce bold, aggressive policies — or just more intraparty feuds.

Even as Republicans were expected to make major gains nationally, the Massachusetts GOP suffered a decisive and devastating defeat with Diehl’s loss. The bitterly divided state party has long faced a dwindling vote share and minimal electoral influence — but for the past eight years, it at least had Governor Charlie Baker in the corner office.

In nominating Diehl, the state GOP broke with a tradition of moderate Republican candidates who were able to win this blue state with a careful, consensus-building message focused on the economy. Diehl, a Donald Trump-backed conservative who falsely called the 2020 election “rigged,” snubbed that moderate approach, instead campaigning on vows to undo vaccine mandates and spread public dollars to private schools. Those positions made it difficult to broaden his appeal beyond conservative Republicans, leading to a low-energy race with little substantive debate or public interest.

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In fact it was Healey, the Democrat, who sounded more like Baker during the campaign, promising to cut taxes and moderating the progressive reputation she had held as attorney general. Baker notably did not endorse in the governor’s race.

A New Hampshire native and a graduate of Harvard and Northeastern Law School, Healey has made her basketball career a core part of her public persona, threading sports metaphors into her political pitches and selling merchandise that boasts “my governor is a baller.” She launched her political career in the 2014 race for attorney general, running as an unlikely outsider who dared to take on the party leaders’ consensus pick — an underdog status that seems hard to remember given the air of inevitability that surrounded her gubernatorial run.

Winning in 2014 quickly catapulted her to political stardom. As attorney general, she launched or joined numerous high-profile cases, against Purdue Pharma, ExxonMobil, and major tech companies, including Facebook. She also sued the Trump administration nearly 100 times — only New York, California, and Maryland filed more cases — and, most often, she succeeded.

By the time she launched her bid for governor, Healey had long since solidified her position atop the Democratic establishment. Democrats have viewed the gubernatorial race as hers to lose since the day nearly a year ago when Baker, a broadly popular moderate Republican, said he would not seek a third term.

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A contested Democratic primary quickly disintegrated, with all of Healey’s opponents ending their campaigns by June to cede the nomination to her — an unheard of development given the state’s deep blue bench.

The South End Democrat then faced minimal threat from Diehl. The antiabortion conservative consistently lagged behind Healey in fund-raising and polls, and his ties to Trump did him no favors in a state where the former president’s brand is toxic.

Her seemingly inexorable win Tuesday belies its historic status: Healey, for all her cautious campaigning and care to avoid controversy in the final weeks of her run, has set Massachusetts on a new course, and led a field that both transforms the face of state government and sends a message to the nation. Massachusetts had previously elected one governor of color: Deval Patrick served from 2007 to 2015.

President Biden made a “congratulatory” call to Healey Tuesday night, according to the White House.

Healey joins a tiny group of openly LGBTQ governors in the United States — there are currently just two — and she entered Tuesday with the chance to be one of, if not the first, openly lesbian governor in the country. Democrat Tina Kotek, who is gay, was also vying for the governor’s office in Oregon.

Healey’s election is not just a symbolic victory, said Tanya Neslusan, executive director of MassEquality.

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“When the legislature puts through LGBT legislation, we will not have to hold our breath, hoping that the governor will sign off on it,” Neslusan said.

And for Massachusetts women, Tuesday’s sweep caps a stunning four decades of change. The landscape began to shift in 1986, when Evelyn Murphy became lieutenant governor, the first woman elected to statewide constitutional office. Then, in 2001, it shook, when then-lieutenant governor Jane Swift inherited the position of acting governor. In the last decade, more barriers began to fall — in 2012, Elizabeth Warren became the first woman Massachusetts sent to the Senate — and then just kept falling, with the historic election of Ayanna Pressley to Congress in 2018, the first woman of color Massachusetts sent to Congress; and the barrier-breaking 2021 win of Michelle Wu, who became the first woman and first person of color elected mayor of Boston.

Tuesday marked “an incredible milestone for Massachusetts,” where years of methodical, no-frills service in local elected office and the state Legislature prepared women candidates for roles on the larger statewide stage, said Amanda Hunter, executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, where she leads efforts to increase women’s representation.

“This may seem like a sea change, but this pipeline has been building for decades,” Hunter said. “Seeing women dominate statewide office is going to very quickly break down some very entrenched stereotypes across the Commonwealth.”

Democratic state Senator Diana DiZoglio declared victory over Republican Anthony Amore to become auditor. The only man to win one of the state’s six constitutional offices Tuesday was Secretary of State William F. Galvin, a Democrat who himself made history by capturing an unprecedented eighth four-year term.

Campbell, a 40-year-old Mattapan resident who became the first woman of color elected to statewide office here, campaigned on promises to reform the justice system that swallowed many of her family members.

Raised by relatives and in foster care after losing her mother to a car accident and her father to prison, Campbell graduated from the Boston Latin School, Princeton, and UCLA Law School, going on to work as an attorney on Beacon Hill and the president of the Boston City Council.

“My faith has allowed me to turn significant pain into purpose,” Campbell told a crowd of cheering supporters Tuesday night. “This moment, this win, our win, is a culmination of hard work, purpose-driven work and I am so ready to get to work.”

She defeated Republican Jay McMahon, a second-time nominee who ran on a “law-and-order” platform and vowed to aggressively fight the state’s opioid crisis.

”We have shattered glass ceilings tonight,” Campbell added from the stage, saying that women “will lead Massachusetts forward.”

“And it’s about damn time.”

Ivy Scott and Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff. Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.