Donald J. Trump has never campaigned in Hatfield. The president is not calling for cuts to school funding in Southampton or denying new liquor licenses in Northampton. But in the race for the First Hampshire District’s state representative seat, where the East-West railway and dairy farming are campaign fodder, so is Trump.
“He’s kind of like that figure — he who shall not be named — who sort of looms above all things,” said Lindsay Sabadosa, who is vying against fellow Democrat Diana Szynal for the open House seat. “Even at my campaign kickoff, I was asked: ‘What can you do, as a state representative, about Trump?’ ”
For local and statewide campaigns normally walled off from Washington, Trump has loomed large across the ballot in Massachusetts this year, permeating the dialogue and campaign messaging in races that are usually dominated by local, not federal, issues.
In the race for governor, Trump is wielded as a political cudgel. For secretary of state, he’s a call to action. In the attorney general’s race, he’s both.
If all politics was local in the era of Tip O’Neill, the reverse may be true under Trump.
“It’s Trump 24/7, and it’s very hard for the Democrats to get through the wall of noise,” said Phil Johnston, a former chair of the state Democratic Party.
“People are very strongly with him or very strongly against him, and the country is terribly divided in unprecedented ways,” he added. “Those emotions, which those divisions stir up, will be very important factors in November.”
The prevalence of Trump shifts from race to race, but his specter has undoubtedly permeated the campaign trail, sometimes in surprising places.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin, facing his most serious primary fight in two decades in office, hung his pitch at the party’s convention, in part, on telling Democratic activists that he’s the best defense against any Russian or Trump election meddling in 2020. Supporters of his opponent, Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim, have made a similar pitch in endorsing him.
In her reelection bid, Attorney General Maura T. Healey has punctuated her term by pointing to the dozens of lawsuits she has brought or been party to against the Trump administration.
Yet, the Republicans running against her have sought to turn the tables. Healey, they argue, is actually too focused on Trump, to the detriment of the state. Jay McMahon, in winning the GOP endorsement in April, called the lawsuits “frivolous.” His primary opponent, Dan Shores, contends that for every lawsuit Healey files against the Trump administration, “that’s one more drug dealer that goes free.”
Perhaps nowhere, however, has Trump been cited more often than in the governor’s race. Jay Gonzalez and Robert K. Massie, the two Democrats vying for their party’s nomination, have repeatedly sought to tie the president to Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016.
Gonzalez, in criticizing the decision to send a National Guard helicopter and a two-person crew to the southern border, charged that Baker is “helping Donald Trump enforce his hateful policies.” Massie has argued that Baker hasn’t done enough to criticize the administration.
Meanwhile, buffeting Baker’s right flank is Scott Lively, a conservative antigay pastor who has called himself “100 percent pro-Trump” in their Republican primary.
Baker has responded by saying his focus remains on the state, making him one of the few this election cycle trying hard to keep Trump talk off the campaign trail.
“[Baker] will continue to vocally disagree with and advocate against federal policies misaligned with the best interests of the Commonwealth on issues like health care, climate change, and immigration,” said Jim Conroy, a senior adviser to Baker.
The focus on Trump has, in recent months, seeped into local races, where an array of candidates have pointed to his election as a catalyst for them launching their first political campaign. That includes Sabadosa, the First Hampshire candidate, and Chelsea S. Kline, who launched an activist group in early 2017 and is now the only Democrat on the ballot for the state Senate seat previously held by former Senate president Stanley C. Rosenberg.
“I hear these concerns from constituents,” Kline said. “I can ensure them I am looking out for all of them on the local level.”
Some have directly made Trump a campaign issue. Tram Nguyen, an Andover Democrat challenging state Representative Jim Lyons, said she’s compared the Republican incumbent and president to voters in her argument for a more collaborative lawmaker.
“He is a Trump supporter, and the public knows about it,” she said.
Lyons, who voted for Trump but backed Senator Ted Cruz in the 2016 presidential primary, said he’s never hid his views since first winning the seat in 2010. But the conservative also put daylight between himself and the president. “There’s no relationship to Donald Trump’s positions,” he said.
In Lexington, Michelle Ciccolo, a candidate in a five-way Democratic primary for a House seat, touts on her campaign website the need to “push back on the regressive efforts coming out of Washington” — amid discussions about local transportation and school funding.
“I don’t think we get to pretend that what’s happening on the national level isn’t affecting us on the local level,” Ciccolo said in an interview.
But wielding anti-Trump rhetoric can mean walking a fine line for Democrats, especially in local races where it’s harder to draw a direct line between Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
“I think that every campaign is considering what Trump means to their election cycle,” said Jay Cincotti, a Democratic campaign operative. “If your opponent is an unabashed Trump supporter, that’s an easier tie to make. If your opponent has supported positions that the president has supported, like immigration, that’s easy to make.
“But if I’m running for state rep,” he said, “and I’m using Trump for the sake of Trump, it could have voters scratching their heads.”Reach Matt Stout at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout