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Doughty favors pragmatic conservatism to hot-button issues. He hopes that will win him the governor's seat06:40
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Chris Doughty, GOP candidate for governor, photographed in January. (Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald via Getty Images)
Chris Doughty, GOP candidate for governor, photographed in January. (Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

Wrentham businessman Chris Doughty, one of two Republicans running for Massachusetts governor, has never sought political office before.

But Doughty has been thinking about running for governor for a long time, according to his wife, Leslie. She says Doughty first told her about his political ambitions 35 years ago, just before they were married.

"He said, 'OK, before you commit to this, I just want you to know, that the only political position ... I would like to do is be a governor,' " she recalled.

And when Gov. Charlie Baker opted not to seek a third term, Doughty finally saw an opening to run.

"This is the natural spot for me that I've been preparing for, for a lifetime," Doughty said.

In a recent interview with WBUR, Doughty said he's not running as a "judicial activist or a social warrior," but as a "pragmatic businessman" who wants to govern and has the skills to accomplish the job.

Chris and Leslie Doughty live in a neighborhood of large, rolling lawns in Wrentham, not far from the Rhode Island border. If it were up to his neighbors, Doughty would win easily, judging from the many Doughty-for-Governor lawn signs in the area.

But Doughty faces big challenges: First, he's relatively unknown. Second, his opponent Geoff Diehl has more name recognition and the backing of former President Trump, who remains popular with many Republican voters.

And even if Doughty wins the Republican nomination, he would still have to get by the Democrat in the race, Attorney General Maura Healey, who has big leads in both the polls and fundraising.

Still, Doughty has poured millions of his own dollars into the race and says he knows he can win. When asked if he's an optimist, Doughty laughed heartily, and conceded, "You're not the first person to ask me that."

"He's a hopeless optimist," Leslie said.

Chris and Leslie Doughty at their home in Wrentham, with two of their grandchildren, Halle and Isla (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)
Chris and Leslie Doughty at their home in Wrentham, with two of their grandchildren, Halle and Isla. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)

Doughty grew up in Los Angeles — and tells a heartbreaking story about his large family that he said defines who he is today. When he was 16, his youngest brother, who was just 2 at the time, fell into a neighbor's swimming pool. His brother almost drowned and suffered severe brain injuries, and eventually died when he was just 17 years old.

"So my family went from the normal, healthy, functional family to the family in crisis," Doughty says.

Doughty said that's when he learned about the value of community, including his church and neighbors.

"There were people coming and going to take care of this little 2-year-old boy," Doughty recalled, "and my parents never asked, 'What party are you from?' It was, 'Thank you for coming.' "

Doughty, 59, said he appreciated the deep care and compassion from the community. He says that care inspired him to give something back and eventually enter politics.

He studied economics and government at Brigham Young University. After college, he did a two-year mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Argentina. Doughty says the country's socialist government was struggling with an economic crisis, an experience that helped shape his politics.

"I got to witness first-hand what happens when you go too far with socialistic policies," Doughty said, recalling that inflation and taxes hit record levels, leaving many citizens struggling to survive.

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"I met senior citizens whose entire life savings could not buy a loaf of bread after three years of that kind of inflation," he said.

Doughty returned to the United States to attend Harvard Business School, and then went into business. Today, he co-owns Capstan Atlantic in Wrentham, which manufactures gears for the auto industry and employs 300 people.

At a recent meet-and-greet in a private home in Natick, Doughty introduced himself to a couple dozen guests, who represented the kind of voters he needs if his long-shot campaign is to be successful.

They included moderate Republicans, unenrolled voters — even a Democrat or two. Doughty told them that he is pro-business, and that his priorities include lowering taxes, streamlining regulations and bringing more jobs to Massachusetts. If elected, he vowed to be "the top salesman for the state."

Doughty also pledged to cross party lines and work with Democrats, who control the Legislature.

"I bring sort of a uniting view of the world," Doughty told them. "I'm not here to say bad things about other people or other parties."

He said he hoped people could work together to fix problems and make Massachusetts the "jewel of America."

Some of the voters at the gathering in Natick said they thought Doughty fits the mold of Gov. Baker, a moderate with a background in business, even though Doughty calls himself a conservative.

Patti Sciarra, the chair of Natick's Republican town committee, who hosted the gathering, said she believes Doughty would be "a good follow-up" to Baker because he's "pragmatic and fiscally conservative."

Sciarra said she also wants the Republican party to nominate Doughty because she thinks a pro-Trump candidate like Diehl can't beat a Democrat in a state as blue as Massachusetts. "A Trump endorsement is not going to win here," she said.

And yet Doughty says he does not oppose Trump's policies. While he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, he says he liked Trump's pro-business positions and voted for him in 2020. He is also socially conservative, but takes a somewhat pragmatic view on some issues. For example, when he first entered the race, he told the Boston Globe he opposes abortion except in cases of rape and incest. But Doughty told WBUR he accepts that abortions are legal in Massachusetts — and will remain that way.

"I have no interest in changing that," he said. "The divisiveness of this issue is just exactly the opposite of what I want to bring to the State House."

Instead, he hopes to find ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

And he criticizes Diehl for talking too much about divisive national concerns, like critical race theory, mask mandates and other hot-button issues that have become staples of many Republican campaigns elsewhere.

"Every single one of us listening to this radio knows that Geoff cannot win running as an Alabama Republican in the state of Massachusetts," Doughty said during a recent debate on WRKO radio. "A vote for Geoff Diehl is a vote for Maura Healey."

Diehl shot back: "Well, there's your loyal Republican coming in out of the blue, running for governor," he said. "When you lose, you're going to be gone again."

Doughty has trailed in recent polls for the Republican nomination. And Diehl has a huge advantage with Trump's endorsement. Eric Fehrnstrom, a long-time Republican consultant, said these days candidates generally need to be aligned with Trump to win a Republican primary.

"If they're not Trump enough they lose their primary," said Fehrnstrom. "So, it might be easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than getting a moderate through a Republican primary."

But Doughty says he can win both the primary and general election by appealing to independents — who represent the state's largest block of voters — the same formula used by Baker and past Republican governors, including William Weld, Mitt Romney and Paul Cellucci.

And ever the optimist, Doughty says he isn't daunted by his standing in the polls.

"You know, Nelson Mandela said everybody will tell you it's impossible until you do it," he said.

It will soon be clear whether he's right. The Massachusetts Republican primary is just a month away.

This segment aired on August 5, 2022.

Related:

Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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