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On Warren, Baker and state GOP not reading from same script

With questions about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s heritage whipping into a froth, the Massachusetts Republican Party and its new conservative chairman made the political decision to go at the Democrat — hard.

She’s “incapable” of being a party leader, chairman James Lyons said Wednesday. Her claims to Native American heritage were an effort “to advance her legal and academic career,” he charged. “Her politically motivated apology backfires,” a press release screamed.

Not included in the bombast, however: the voice of Lyons’s de facto party leader, Governor Charlie Baker.

In another example of the gully separating Baker and his own party, the Swampscott Republican is offering a much softer response as Warren tries to navigate the fallout of having claimed Native American roots.


And it’s also laying bare a political reality for Baker: The selection of Lyons means he’s likely to have to answer for his party’s rhetoric in ways he didn’t have to under Kirsten Hughes, a Baker favorite and Lyons’s more moderate predecessor.

Such differences seem inevitable. Lyons easily captured the party chairmanship last month over Baker’s preferred candidate — despite Baker spending about $1 million in 2016 to put a majority of his own candidates on the state party committee. And the fervor around Warren as she ramps up a presidential run provides one of the first clear views of potential fault lines.

Asked Friday if Warren’s credibility has been damaged, Baker said he believes the issue is primarily between Warren and the Native American community, showing little appetite to inject himself into the controversy.

“Look, I think the most important thing on this whole thing is the relationship with the Native American community,” Baker told reporters. “They, in some respects, are the people who have the most legitimate concern here. And I think the issue and the conversation with respect to those issues belongs between her and them. And obviously if she chooses to run for president at the end of the day, it’s then going to be between her and the voters of this country.”


That stands in stark contrast to Lyons, who specifically demanded that Warren provide answers in the wake of a report showing a new example of her identifying as “American Indian’’ during a period in the 1980s.

“If she is serious about running for president, Senator Warren must start by answering these questions: What has she claimed about her heritage? When did she claim it? How many of her claims are not authentic?” Lyons said in a statement.

“It is discouraging to know that our senator . . . refuses to provide voters with a straight timeline and honest accounting about claiming an inauthentic heritage to advance her legal and academic career.”

That Warren will continually face such questions is clear, even among Democrats. Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who said he wasn’t planning to attend Warren’s presidential announcement in Lawrence on Saturday, called it a “very complicated situation” that she’ll have to explain, specifically to voters outside Massachusetts.

“Certainly I think it’s something that she’s going to have to address over and over and over again as she goes around,” Walsh said, later adding: “As she goes to other places, I think it’s probably going to be the first topic that she will bring up.”

Matt Stout can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout