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The difference among Elizabeth Warren’s GOP challengers? It’s more about approach than issues

Beth Lindstrom is running against Geoff Diehl and John Kingston in the Republican primary for Senate.
Beth Lindstrom is running against Geoff Diehl and John Kingston in the Republican primary for Senate.(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

Beth Lindstrom ticked through the issues out loud: There’s the economy, she said. There’s health care. Then, she paused.

“I’m thinking,” she said. The challenge: finding issues that separate her and her opponents, state Representative Geoff Diehl and businesssman John Kingston, ahead of their US Senate primary Tuesday. Quickly, the longtime GOP activist found her answer.

“I don’t think there’s a policy,” she said. “It’s the motive.”

All three Republicans vying to face US Senator Elizabeth Warren fashion themselves as conservatives who support term limits and a larger border wall. But why they’re the best option to advance to November has become a race of competing pitches around personality, approach, and, ultimately, who would be a better Warren foil in 2018.

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There’s Diehl, the former Trump campaign state co-chairman from Whitman who says Republicans want someone who, like him, is aligned with the president.

Kingston, of Winchester, touts himself as a bridge-builder — and a sanctuary city opponent — who cites the work of Charlie Baker, the state’s moderate Republican governor.

Lindstrom says she, too, will reach across the aisle, and often cites her experience working with businesses as part of Governor Mitt Romney’s cabinet.

“It’s funny, it all resolves itself less in policy differences — we can name some minor things — but it’s approach,” Kingston said this week at a cafe in Worcester.

Each style, they say, is also their ticket to topping Warren. But whoever emerges Tuesday will face an uphill battle against a nationally known Democrat with more money ($15.5 million on hand as of this month) and the benefit of running in a solid-blue state.

The University of Virginia Center for Politics considers Warren’s seat “safe Democrat.” And while there’s been more recent polling on Warren’s viability in a hypothetical 2020 presidential election than her 2018 Senate race, a June survey showed her with at least a 22-point advantage over each of her lesser-known Republican opponents in the Nov. 6 vote.

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Whoever wins will undoubtedly come with their well-honed attack lines, as each candidate has knocked Warren as a progressive obstructionist with an eye on the White House. (Warren has said “it’s certainly my plan” to serve out a full six-year Senate term if reelected.)

But it’s their arguments of why they’re the best alternative that wedges daylight between the Republicans.

Diehl, who won the party’s endorsement at its April convention, has repeatedly said he is most likely to have a “seat at the table down at Washington,” citing endorsements from former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former White House spokesman Sean Spicer, and other Trump supporters.

“I think they [the voters] want to see someone who’s shown that he supports the work the president’s doing to restore our economy, increase jobs, and secure the border,” Diehl said Wednesday while greeting commuters at a Natick commuter rail station.

Immigration, too, has been a central focus. His campaign last week released a video that claims that 20 people a day — or “over 7,000 people every year” — are killed by undocumented immigrants, though there’s no federal data to support the figures.

Diehl has stood by the assertion, including when a voter confronted him Wednesday.

“Seven thousand — where did you get that number?” said the man, who declined to identify himself.

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Diehl’s campaign manager, Holly Robichaud, cut in, saying: “The Georgetown Law Review.”

“I have the article,” Diehl told a Globe reporter. “I can give it to you.”

His campaign, which last week offered several other explanations for the data, later sent a link to a 2008 essay by Jim Gilchrist listed as appearing in the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal. The founder of the Minuteman Project, which sent volunteers, often armed, to patrol America’s southern border in the mid-2000s, Gilchrist claims 25 Americans are killed each day by undocumented immigrants, and cites 2006 figures pushed by Iowa congressman Steve King that The Washington Post has since dubbed “bad data.

For Kingston, a first-time candidate, he’s framed himself as a politician in the mold of Baker who will work with Democrats. But he also emphasized conservative postures, including repealing the Affordable Care Act (which Diehl also supports) and, as emphasized in one TV ad, “defunding sanctuary cities.”

The Winchester businessman — who’s reported spending at least $1.1 million on “placed media” between July and mid-August — was less bullish on the vow Tuesday, though, calling his position a way to gain “leverage.”

“In the real world, it never would happen,” he said of pulling public safety funding from cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. “My end goal is not defunding, it’s not taking money away. My end goal is to have them be consistent with the laws of this land.”

Railing against sanctuary cities has been a campaign fixture for Lindstrom, too. The Groton business-owner, however, has tried to cut a centrist profile by walking a line: She emphasizes that this is her first run for office — “not a politician” as one of her radio spots put it — but touts the perspective she brings after years in party politics and state government, including as Romney’s director of consumer affairs.

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Her opponents have been quick to point out the dichotomy, helping to punctuate a primary that at times has focused on who is the campaign’s most “outsider” candidate.

“We might agree on a lot,” Lindstrom said of the three-candidate field. “But it’s about the ability to connect with people of all parties, of all different thoughts. That’s truly [the difference].”


Reach Matt Stout at matt.stout@globe.com.