The first — and perhaps the last — debate in the Massachusetts Republican gubernatorial primary took place Wednesday night on a conservative radio talk show.
Former state Rep. Geoff Diehl of Whitman faced off against Wrentham businessman and political newcomer Chris Doughty on Howie Carr's show for an hour.
Both Republicans touted their fiscal conservativism and vowed to make Massachusetts a more business-friendly state. But they sparred over topics like experience and their odds of beating Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in the general election.
"It's impossible for him to win," Doughty said of Diehl.
Diehl, who unsuccessfully challenged Elizabeth Warren for U.S. Senate four years ago, has been endorsed by former president Donald Trump.
"He's running a campaign that's targeted to Alabama voters," Doughty said. "We are in Massachusetts, so he's going to lose. I know it. We all know it. He's going to lose."
Diehl later accused Doughty of "coming in out of the blue and running for governor" and dinged him for voting for Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.
"When you lose, you're going to be gone, I'm sure, again," Diehl said. "So look, I can tell you this: a vote for Chris Doughty is going to be a vote for the next Democrat."
Doughty positioned himself in the mold of popular moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, arguing that his experience in the private sector as the CEO of a local gear manufacturing company made him well equipped for the job — and for winning the election.
"Those are the types of governors our state has consistently elected," Doughty said.
Diehl pledged to re-hire the nearly 1,000 state workers who left or lost their jobs due to Gov. Charlie Baker's vaccine mandate. (Diehl's unofficial running mate, former state representative Leah Cole Allen, has declined to get the COVID vaccine.)
"I'm going to hire back every single one of those fired state employees on day one," Diehl said. "And on day two, I'm gonna make sure that nobody is in my administration that thought that was a good idea."
Doughty agreed that the state should rehire state workers who were fired due to the vaccine mandate and "make accommodations for them." However, he said his bigger concern was learning loss due the remote learning during the pandemic.
"I've audited for my whole career," he said. "On day one, I'm going to start 100-day gap analysis of our schools to make sure parents are satisfied."
Both candidates said they want to give parents a more direct say in public education. Diehl said he wants them to have more representation on school boards, while Doughty said he wants to implement a hotline to call if they feel their child is being taught something inappropriate.
The candidates also attacked each other's background.
Diehl knocked Doughty for his business's past citations for environmental violations, which Doughty suggested was the fault of burdensome regulations. (His company, Capstan Atlantic, ultimately paid a $1,380 for the violations.)
Meanwhile, Doughty attacked Diehl's lack of accomplishments during his time in the State House. In response, the former lawmaker countered that his proposals were often rolled into larger bills and touted his involvement in the successful 2014 ballot campaign to repeal a law tying the gas tax to inflation.
"If I hadn't done the repeal of indexing our gas tax to inflation back in '14 — with the help of a ton of people across the state — can you imagine where I guess tax would be right now?" he asked.
Doughty has pressed Diehl for debates outside of conservative talk radio. But Diehl has refused. He told supporters in a recent email it's not his job to help Doughty, who is primarily self-funding his campaign, "buy his way into this race."
Diehl has suggested an additional debate moderated by WRKO host Jeff Kuhner, who has endorsed him in the race. But Doughty says he will only participate if Diehl agrees to a televised debate.