WHITMAN — State Representative Geoff Diehl, a Whitman Republican and top local supporter of President Trump, formalized his 2018 US Senate bid Tuesday, promising a populist approach in his effort to topple Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
“Can anybody in this room name for me one accomplishment by our current senior senator?” Diehl asked.
Addressing a cheering, standing-room-only, crowd at a VFW post in his hometown, Diehl recalled his underdog legislative victory in 2010 and said he would wage a similarly spirited challenge to Warren.
“Let’s make history again,” Diehl said in remarks laced with sports references. “Let’s win the ‘people’s seat’ back like we did in 2010.”
Diehl has curried support with the party’s right-wing grass roots more aggressively and successfully than any other candidate in the race, hoping to leverage the disproportionately conservative primary electorate to the Republican nomination. His ties to Trump, though, could complicate a general election, whose voters are far less sanguine about the president.
The Republican field is getting crowded. Along with Diehl, entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai is courting conservatives, businessman John Kingston is holding a campaign event Thursday, and longtime Republican operative Beth Lindstrom has been working with former Mitt Romney aides in preparation for a possible bid. Gabriel Gomez, who ran for US Senate in 2013, is also considering a run, sources close to him say.
On Thursday, Diehl picked up the backing of former Red Sox great Curt Schilling — “only the World Series-winning pitcher,” Diehl reminded supporters setting up for the launch. Schilling, who now hosts a conservative radio talk show, had previously backed Ayyadurai.
A WBUR poll conducted in June found that 55 percent of the state’s voters viewed Warren favorably. Diehl’s name recognition was in the high single digits.
The 48-year-old’s bill of particulars against Warren is long. He calls her soft on immigration. He finds fault with her “you didn’t build that” argument, pushing back that private industry has had a greater social and economic influence than she allows.
“She talks about how it was government that gave everybody what they have, and not industry or American individualism or small business. It’s really a slap in the face to a lot of people I know,” Diehl said Tuesday before the kickoff.
“It was our Lowell spinning mills, it was our Brockton shoe factories, it was the New Bedford whaling industry that helped build the original hospitals, that built the original schools before Horace Mann came into the picture and created the public school system. It was private industry that built this country and made it great, not the other way around,” he said.
He called Warren too focused on political fund-raising for herself and other Democrats, charging, “She has been overlooking the state of Massachusetts pretty much from day one, since she started.”
In an e-mailed statement, Warren spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said, “Senator Warren is taking nothing for granted as she builds a strong grass-roots campaign across Massachusetts. And she will continue her work in the US Senate standing up for working families against powerful corporate interests.”
Elected to the House in 2010 over a Democratic incumbent, Diehl carved a statewide profile carrying the banner for the successful 2014 ballot push to repeal a law tying the gas tax to inflation. On Tuesday, he recalled resisting the push to site the 2024 Olympics in Boston as “showing the muscle” of populism. In 2015, Diehl lost a special election for a state Senate seat.
Privately, Democratic operatives have said they are impressed with his outreach to and connection with grass-roots activists.
Diehl said he planned to follow the “same strategy as the gas-tax ballot question,” drawing on a similar pool of volunteers.
In an interview before Tuesday’s campaign event, as backers inflated red, white, and blue balloons and tested the sound system, Diehl said he planned to ignite those grass roots to offset what he expects will be Warren’s massive campaign-finance advantage.
Warren had more than $11 million on hand at the end of June, to Diehl’s nearly $260,000.
“We’re going to be in an uphill fight the entire time,” he said.
If the general election appears competitive, particularly if Senate control is in the balance, outside groups aligned with both parties are expected to spend enormous amounts of money on the race.
Diehl said he does not expect any assistance from Trump during the primary. Massachusetts was one of Trump’s strongest states during the Republican presidential primary last year, but he got just 34 percent of the vote here in November.
Longtime sports media personality John Dennis, who emceed Tuesday’s event and said he had helped persuade Schilling to back Diehl, said the challenger could argue that, due to Warren’s confrontational stance with the administration, Diehl could better deliver for the state.
Diehl and Trump, Dennis said, agree on “a lot of issues,” but carry themselves differently.
“Their personalities are very different, their methods are very different,” he said in an interview.