Senator Elizabeth Warren wasn’t due for the town hall meeting at Woburn High School for an hour, but Geoff Diehl, one of three Republicans seeking to challenge her in November, was already in the parking lot, waiting in an idling RV emblazoned with an 8-foot-high image of himself.
In television spots that have aired for weeks, John Kingston promises he will defund “sanctuary cities” and get drug dealers off the streets — if elected, of course, to the seat held by Warren.
And Beth Lindstrom is criss-crossing the state to tell business owners and small groups of voters that she’s the independent-minded candidate best suited to beat the Cambridge Democrat in November.
The GOP’s three-way Senate primary has become a study in contrasting campaign strategies, where the target is always Warren but the candidates’ paths to grabbing votes on Sept. 4 rarely converge.
That Diehl, Kingston, and Lindstrom each face similar hurdles is clear: As relatively little-known candidates, they’re vying to unseat one of the Democratic Party’s most popular names and an oft-discussed contender for its 2020 presidential nomination.
How they’ve gone about making their case has been one of the race’s starkest differences, a dynamic shaped by money and personal style.
Diehl has tracked Warren across the state, amping up the attacks on her. Kingston, who has spent recent days outside Massachusetts, says he’s pouring millions into dominating the airwaves. And Lindstrom has sought out every chance to debate her primary opponents — even when the “debate” includes only her.
“They’re running the type of race based on their realities,” said Ryan Williams, a GOP strategist and former Mitt Romney aide. Traditionally, the most effective way to reach voters in a campaign’s final weeks is to turn to the television or radio airwaves, he said.
“If the message is right, it allows the candidate to communicate that message to a larger group of people,” he said. “But it’s not the only approach.”
Diehl shadows Warren
It’s been a regular occurrence this summer: Diehl and his RV set up outside a Warren town hall. Last week, he was in Woburn, bashing Warren’s remarks that the criminal justice system is “racist . . . front to back.” Weeks earlier, Diehl arrived in Great Barrington before a Warren event. A month before that, it was Newburyport.
Yes, all three candidates have launched attacks on Warren. But it’s Diehl who has done it while practically in her shadow — campaigning near her public events to, as he put it, “aggressively engage” with people.
The bombast reminds observers of another outspoken candidate. The state cochair of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Diehl has caught headlines by declaring Warren a bigger threat than Russia and pulling in out-of-state endorsements, including former White House spokesman Sean Spicer and former presidential candidate Herman Cain.
Diehl’s campaign has also invested heavily in the RV, putting nearly $100,000 into it — the campaign has spent $1.4 million overall — including adding huge white lettering that declares he saved taxpayers $2 billion.
It’s a reference to his role pushing a 2014 ballot question that repealed a short-lived measure to automatically tie the state’s gas tax to inflation. The law’s supporters had said its repeal could cost the state $2 billion in lost tax revenue over 10 years.
Diehl, who had $235,000 in his account to start July, said he’s taking a similar ground-game approach in his Senate campaign.
“We’ve had a formula for success,” said Diehl, calling the gas tax repeal a “household budget issue” that, amid his attacks on Warren, he hopes connects with Democrats and Republicans. “That’s the way I conduct this campaign.”
Kingston relies on ads
With $4.7 million of his own money in the race, Kingston has touted plans to spend $2 million on advertising by the primary. He has run spots on cable television and reserved time on local ABC, NBC, and Fox affiliates, making the Winchester businessman the only candidate to go on TV so far.
During interviews and the race’s lone debate so far, Kingston has built his message on criticizing Washington’s partisan divide and portraying Warren as the main culprit. “We can fix broken Washington by understanding that by standing together as Americans there’s no problem we can’t solve,” Kingston said in a statement.
His TV pitches, though, have varied. His first ad included images of Boston police officers in riot gear, a grainy video of Warren, and Kingston vowing to stop “extremists [who] push for sanctuary cities.” His latest ad pairs a playful take on Warren’s potential White House ambitions with a vow to cut taxes.
His campaign, which had $2.6 million in July, says Kingston has supplemented the media blitz with “burnt shoe leather,” and provided a list of 30 campaign stops, including at festivals and beaches, that Kingston has made since last month.
But over five days last week, Kingston had just one public event — a radio debate. He also spent a chunk of this week in California, where he owns a timeshare and touted a visit to the southern border. His campaign did not make him available for an interview for this story.
“We’re running a serious media campaign to get our message out,” spokesman Joseph Cueto said in e-mails. “And we’ll run a serious campaign against Elizabeth Warren.”
Lindstrom ready to debate
With less than $80,000 in her campaign account to start July, Lindstrom acknowledged that running a broadcast TV ad is a “stretch.”
It’s left the longtime Republican activist to lean heavily on retail politicking, filling her schedule with tours of small businesses, including three farms this month. Twice in the last week, she attended “debates” in which she’s the only candidate to accept an invite. And while Lindstrom has released a series of radio ads, she’s made about a half-dozen TV appearances on Fox Business, Fox News, and CNN, getting network exposure without paying for it.
The schedule brought her last week to the Waltham office of AMPM Facility Services, a commercial janitorial company where about 15 employees gathered to hear Lindstrom’s stump speech.
She touted her experience as a member of the Romney administration’s Cabinet; her small business (she owns a salon and day spa in Groton); and, in her view, Warren’s shortcomings.
At one point, one of the employees told her he didn’t want his senator to “be Trump” — or make the campaign about attacking Warren. “Be positive,” he said.
Lindstrom, taking the comment in stride, emphasized putting a focus on constituent services, evoking the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and “how good he was” at responding to residents.
“That’s what the whole job is about — making sure you’re doing things for the people you represent,” she said, “rather than doing other things and traveling around the country, running for president.”
The thinly veiled jab at Warren had little time to land before Lindstrom acknowledged it.
“I know, I had to ding on her,” Lindstrom said quickly. “It’s just habit.”