Republican John Kingston called a meeting late last month with his party rival for US Senate, Beth Lindstrom, and strongly urged her to drop out of the primary, arguing he was the stronger candidate to defeat Democrat Elizabeth Warren, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation.
Lindstrom, who announced her Senate candidacy last week, firmly resisted the proposition — as well as another Kingston proffer, according to a source close to her — one that could well run up against state law.
At that Sept. 22 meeting, Kingston asked her to exit the race and, in exchange, said he would be financially supportive of her in either a race for the congressional seat that Niki Tsongas is vacating or a challenge to US Senator Edward Markey’s reelection in 2020, according to the sources who were granted anonymity to speak candidly.
State law prohibits a candidate for elected office to give another candidate anything of value in exchange for not running in the same race. Violation of the statute, aimed at keeping elections and ballots free of bartering and bribery, carries a penalty of up to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine.
The Lindstrom campaign declined to comment.
Speaking through a spokesman, Kingston would neither confirm nor deny the details of his conversation with Lindstrom — including whether he offered to help finance another campaign for her if she dropped out of the Senate race — when the two met over coffee at the Marriott in Burlington. His communications adviser said Kingston could not recall making specific offers during the brief encounter.
“John said he is eager to support Massachusetts Republicans who are strong candidates in races they are suited for,’’ said his aide, Jon Conradi. “. . . His recollection of the private conversation was there were no specific offers made, that it was a more general discussion.”
The source close to Lindstrom said she was put off by Kingston’s argument that he was a stronger candidate against Warren because he has the better record and message, as well as personal financial resources to put into the campaign.
Kingston’s argument would echo a statement his campaign released Tuesday claiming that Lindstrom’s fund-raising, based on the recent quarterly campaign finance reports, shows she is incapable of mounting what so far has been a heavily self-financed effort.
It quotes Conradi saying, it is “now crystal clear there is only one GOP contender with the resources, record, and message to defeat Elizabeth Warren next November.” He pointed to Lindstrom’s fund-raising report showing she raised $50,000 from donors. Kingston raised $256,000 and put in $3 million of his own funds.
The secret meeting between the two leading moderate candidates occurred just as the GOP primary race was getting underway, a contest that is already exposing the ideological fault lines that run through the Massachusetts Republican Party.
Much of the GOP establishment hopes to block conservative state Representative Geoff Diehl, a top Donald Trump supporter in the 2016 presidential election who is also seeking to oust Warren. His presence on the November ballot would be awkward for Governor Charlie Baker, who is expected to seek reelection. Baker has been critical of Trump and refused to endorse or vote for him last year.
GOP candidates must get 15 percent of the GOP convention vote in April to appear on the September primary ballot. In the current field, Lindstrom and Kingston would be dividing up the increasingly limited moderate base — giving a huge boost to Diehl. Shiva Ayyadurai, who claims to have invented e-mail, is also running for the GOP nod.
Complicating that outcome is the reemergence of a potential third moderate candidate, Gabriel Gomez, the former Navy SEAL and the GOP nominee who lost to Markey in the 2013 special Senate election. GOP officials say Gomez, who could self-fund a good part of his candidacy, is in the process of deciding whether he will take another run for the Senate.Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.