Republican state Representative Geoff Diehl on Wednesday took a stride toward challenging Democratic US Senator Elizabeth Warren next year, announcing a federal campaign account and a formal exploration of a bid against the progressive favorite.
Diehl, a conservative from Whitman who worked for President Trump’s campaign, said he is plotting a campaign strategy less with an eye on the man with whom he’d share a ticket, but rather on two federal candidates who have succeeded in Massachusetts in recent years.
“It’s something I didn’t really focus on,” Diehl said of the electoral map that gave Republican Governor Charlie Baker his 2014 victory. Instead, he said, he has been studying the success of former US senator Scott Brown, who earned a stunning win in 2010, and Trump, who carried last year’s primary with nearly half the vote over four other candidates. Diehl worked as Trump’s state campaign cochair.
Major Republican donor John Kingston is also exploring a run against Warren, according to senior GOP figures. Other lesser-known potential candidates reportedly include Shiva Ayyadurai, who has claimed to have invented e-mail, and Allen Waters of Mashpee.
Labeling Warren an “obstructionist” who has voted against her own state’s interests on issues like National Institutes of Health funding and fishing industry regulations, Diehl rejected the notion that he is known primarily as a needle in the side of his own party.
“It’s not so much anti-establishment, it’s purely that I got elected to do my job,” he said Wednesday.
Diehl’s federal campaign account would allow him to collect campaign funds in preparation for a run. His state campaign cash cannot be used for the federal race.
Warren has nearly $5 million in the bank.
Warren political adviser Kristen Orthman said in an e-mail that “It is up to Republican primary voters to sort through their slate of candidates. Senator Warren is focused on her work for the people of Massachusetts standing up for working families against powerful corporate interests.”
First elected in 2010 in a win over a Democratic incumbent, Diehl has been a leading member of a breakaway faction of the tiny House Republican caucus. That fissure is one of several fronts in an ongoing war within the state GOP, divided largely along lines of moderate, establishment Republicans and more conservative, populist ones — many of whom backed Trump.
Despite the prospect of unseating a progressive with national stature and a foothold in 2020 presidential speculation, national Republicans appeared less than enthusiastic about a Diehl candidacy on Wednesday. A spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect GOP candidates, declined to comment on Diehl’s announcement.
Baker’s camp, too, has been cool toward the prospect of a conservative challenger to Warren in 2018, when both races will be on the ballot. If a Republican candidate on the shared ticket veers too far right, it could both depress moderate turnout that could boost Baker and excite liberal turnout that could aid his as-yet-undetermined Democratic challenger, they fret.
Senior Baker adviser Timothy S. Buckley said the governor “has great respect for Geoff’s ability on the campaign trail, as the governor has seen it himself firsthand. But he himself today, tomorrow, and the next day is focused on doing his job as governor.”
Diehl said he viewed the Senate and gubernatorial campaigns as “complementary.”
“People that may stay home because of the governor’s position on the president may come out for me and throw a vote for him,” he said, referring to Baker’s criticisms of Trump.
“I’m sure we’re both going to skate in our own lines for the most part. It’s two different races for the most part, one on state issues, one on federal issues. Some of them overlap,” he added.
Republicans are somewhat heartened by Warren’s softening poll numbers. A WBUR poll released in January found that 51 percent of the state’s voters view her favorably, but just 44 percent of them believe she deserves a second term.
Warren beat Brown in a nationally watched 2012 campaign, quickly establishing herself as one of the Democratic Party’s most compelling voices on the left.
Diehl’s entrance crowds a 2018 ballot already freighted with multiple cross-currents, noted MassINC pollster Steve Koczela. Democrats are jockeying to take on Baker in November, several Republicans have demonstrated interest in facing Warren, and a handful of ballot questions could excite the bases of both parties.
Those competing dynamics, Koczela said, pose “tactical questions . . . for all the campaigns.”
“Anybody who takes on either Baker or Warren will certainly have their work cut out for them,” he added.