MARLBOROUGH — After years of dismal election results and weak fund-raising, the Massachusetts GOP picked a new leader on Tuesday, narrowly rejecting embattled chairman Jim Lyons in favor of a seasoned lobbyist and Trump supporter who promised to steady the party and reverse its electoral decline.
The Republican State Committee voted 37-34 to make Amy Carnevale its new chair, turning to a longtime state committee member from Marblehead who has worked in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
A lobbyist for K&L Gates, Carnevale has three times been an elected delegate to the Republican National Convention, where she twice backed former president Donald Trump, and she also advised his campaign in Massachusetts in 2016. She’s also helped raise money for former governor Charlie Baker, who appointed her to the Governor’s Commission on Intellectual Disability.
Carnevale has promised a fresh start for a party whose political power, share of registered voters, and fund-raising have all declined in recent years. She said she intends to “professionalize” a party apparatus that has been riven by polarization, internal lawsuits, and a barrage of personal attacks.
In a speech before the vote, Carnevale ticked off the party’s recent failures: a decisive defeat in the race for governor; a decline of tens of thousands of registered Republican voters in the last four years; and financial accounts that, according to the party treasurer, dwindled to just $35,000 at the end of last year. The party, she said, “must do better.”
“By every metric, we are failing,” Carnevale said. “For the sake of the conservative policies we advocate, our remaining officeholders, members of our party, and future candidates, we need a fresh start.”
That pitch proved persuasive. Carnevale won a majority on the second round of balloting, besting both Lyons and Elizabeth Childs, a Brookline physician who won just five votes in the first round and was eliminated from contention.
While Carnevale drew the support of the GOP’s more moderate members, her election is hardly a return to centrist politics for the party. Notably, neither she nor Lyons mentioned Baker in their remarks, and Carnevale has staked out more-conservative positions than the former governor.
She recalled embracing Trump during the 2016 primary, when doing so was, “shall we say, not in fashion.” And she reminded state committee members of her work nearly a decade ago to shape the party’s platform, a document that called every abortion a “tragedy” and held up “traditional marriage” as an institution that “strengthens society.”
Lyons has headed the party’s more hard-line wing, twice winning election on a vow to “give conservatives a seat at the table.” His four years as chair include widespread electoral losses, revelations that the party is in financial distress, and accusations that he violated campaign finance law.
Lyons also regularly clashed with Baker, whose departure this year left the party with less power in state government than it has had in years. Republicans now hold fewer than 30 seats in the 200-member Legislature, their worst showing since 2009. Geoff Diehl, the party’s candidate for governor, lost by 29 percentage points to Democrat Maura Healey. And, Democrats now hold all six statewide constitutional offices.
In the weeks before Tuesday’s vote, accusations flew across all sides of the bitterly divided party organization. E-mails, invoices, and other documents obtained by the Globe showed that Lyons used party funds to investigate two fellow Republicans. He also appears to have communicated directly with an outside political action committee about digging up dirt on Healey during last year’s election, according to these e-mails. State law prohibits independent expenditure PACs from “directly or indirectly” coordinating with candidates or political parties.
In a brief concession speech, Lyons said he will “never quit fighting for life, liberty, and freedom.”
He declined to address questions from a Globe reporter.
The outgoing chairman has argued that his tenure was undermined by critics in the moderate, Baker wing. Over the weekend, he told state committee members in a four-page statement that there have been “nefarious schemes hatched by the liberals” to exert influence over the party and undercut him.
On Tuesday, he also blamed the media for the party’s misfortunes, specifically citing the Globe at least nine times, and arguing the publication has been “constantly and viciously attacking us.” The party, he argued, stood “at a crossroads,” framing the vote as a choice to remain a “pro-life” and “Donald Trump party.”
“If you want to bring back a state party that is anti-Reagan, anti-Trump, I am surely not your chair,” Lyons said before the vote. “I want to be part of a party that stands with Ronald Reagan conservatism, which stands with Donald Trump’s patriotism. I believe that that is the party of our grass roots.”
He also acknowledged that standing firm on conservative principles could cost the GOP at the ballot box.“At first, let it be clear, we’re not going to win and even in most elections, we might lose,” he said.
Carnevale said she would mix those conservative principles with pragmatism.
“It is not enough just to be showing up with strong ideas,” she said in her remarks before Lyons spoke. “We have to win elections.”
Carnevale described herself as an “independent” voice on the committee, and promised to both ensure that the party takes advantage of mail-in balloting — which Lyons has repeatedly railed against — and aggressively monitor “ballot counting machines” on Election Day.
In an e-mail to state committee members Monday, she said one of her “proudest achievements” while on the state committee was working with conservative activists to draft the party platform in 2014.
The platform embraced several positions on social issues over the objection of its more moderate members. It rejected abortion, saying “every instance of abortion is tragic,” and praised marriage between men and women as an institution that “strengthens society.”
“It’s not casting judgment on other unions,” Carnevale said at the time about the marriage language. “It’s simply stating the fact that traditional marriage strengthens our society.”
The platform was an early instance — and far from the last one — of the party being in direct contrast with Baker, who supports abortion rights and gay marriage.
On Tuesday, however, the former governor and the state committee likely saw eye to eye, as Baker has been calling for a change in party leadership since the fall of 2021.
Emma Platoff can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff. Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.