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Healey leads, Diehl trails — and Trump looms large in Mass. governor race

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Geoff Diehl and Maura Healey at their respective primary night victory parties. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR and Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Geoff Diehl and Maura Healey at their respective primary night victory parties. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR and Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Traducido en español por El Planeta Media.

The Massachusetts governor's race features two candidates with starkly different views of former President  Trump.

As a Republican state representative, Geoff Diehl latched on to Trump as soon as he rode down the escalator in Trump Tower in 2015 to announce his run for the White House. Think of Diehl as an early adopter who has been loyal to the former president ever since, and who welcomes Trump's support in his long shot bid to become the state's next governor.

By contrast, Democrat Maura Healey spent much of her tenure as the state's attorney general suing the Trump administration. Healey isn't just anti-Trump; she has repeatedly battled him in court and often won.

Donald Trump rides an escalator to a press event to announce his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower in 2015. (Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)
Donald Trump rides an escalator to a press event to announce his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower in 2015. (Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)

The former president personally weighed in to help Diehl defeat Wrentham businessman Chris Doughty for the Republican nomination.

"Geoff is a proven fighter who successfully pushes back on the ultra-liberal extremists," Trump declared the evening before the Massachusetts primary, when he led an online rally for Diehl. He predicted the Whitman Republican would "rule your state with an iron fist and do what has to be done."

Diehl doesn't present himself as someone who would rule "with an iron fist." But he's proud that he was among the first Massachusetts lawmakers to endorse Trump, and that he co-chaired Trump's 2016 campaign in Massachusetts.

Trump "was reaching out to not just your base Republican, but I think just to the average American," Diehl told WBUR.

As he sat in his campaign headquarters in Plymouth, Diehl ticked off a number of reasons why he supported Trump's presidency. He said Trump put American interests first, lowered taxes to help businesses, opposed U.S. involvement in foreign wars, supported "law and order" and opposed illegal immigration.

"While Trump certainly had his personal flaws, what he delivered on as president was something that I certainly supported in '16," Diehl said. "And I'd like to get back to some sort of presidency like that again in 2024." (Trump continues to hold campaign-style rallies, but he has not said definitively whether he'll run for president again.)

Geoff Diehl talks with protesters against proof of vaccination requirements at Boston City Hall. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Geoff Diehl talks with protesters against proof of vaccination requirements at Boston City Hall. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Healey is also eager to link Diehl to Trump, knowing how unpopular Trump is in deep blue Massachusetts, where Trump lost two straight presidential elections by 2-1 margins.

"We have an opponent who is Donald Trump, who's looking to bring Trumpism to Massachusetts," Healey said the day after she won the Democratic primary.

Healey knows quite a bit about taking on Trump's policies.

Soon after he was inaugurated, Trump imposed a ban on travel from a number of Muslim-majority nations, and Healey promptly challenged the action in court.

She went on to sue the Trump administration nearly 100 times, often joining with other Democratic attorneys general. Her office sued to protect immigrant rights, to reign in predatory student loan lenders, to fend off challenges to the Affordable Care Act and to preserve environmental regulations, among the dozens of legal actions.

Healey told WBUR that after Trump's election victory, she had no choice but to sue his administration again and again "to stop bad things from happening to people here in Massachusetts."

"That election was galvanizing," she said.

But some Republicans criticize Healey for becoming the anti-Trump litigator-in-chief.

"Maura Healey, unfortunately, weaponized her attorney general's office," said Jim Lyons, chairman of the state Republican party.

Lyons said the lawsuits were part of Healey's own political agenda, when she should have been "fighting for the people of Massachusetts."

Healey said her office continued to do its normal legal work, even while going after the federal government.

"We didn't miss a beat when it came to protecting workers and consumers here," Healey said.

Scott Harshbarger, a former Democratic attorney general who ran for governor in 1998, also rejected the charge that Healey abused the power of the AG's office by challenging Trump so aggressively in court.

"Those lawsuits were about consumer protection, environmental protection, civil rights," Harshbarger said. "And the attorney general — the people's lawyer — was representing the broader, public interest of Massachusetts."

Maura Healey walks through Maverick Sq. during an early campaign stop in East Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Maura Healey walks through Maverick Sq. during an early campaign stop in East Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Both candidates have also talked about other issues in the race.

In her campaign, Healey has promised to expand housing, improve transportation, bring down the cost of living and protect abortion rights. She's also repeatedly attacked her Republican opponent, saying voters will face a stark choice in November.

"Geoff Diehl is about tearing people apart," Healey declared in Worcester the day after the primary. "We are about delivering for people."

But while Healey often tries to link Diehl to Trump, many Republicans are hoping Diehl can benefit from dissatisfaction with the current president.

"President Biden is on the ballot in November, not Donald Trump," said Lyons. "And what we've seen is policies of Biden and Maura Healey that are destructive to not only Massachusetts, but America."

According to Lyons, Democrats will have to answer for a growing sense of economic uncertainty, high inflation and "reckless spending." By contrast, Lyons calls Diehl a fiscal conservative who supports parental rights and law and order.

Diehl is also leading an effort to repeal a law giving undocumented immigrants access to driver's licenses, which will be on the ballot in November.

"I think what is extreme is policies like rewarding people who have come here illegally with a document," Diehl said.

Still, polls suggest Diehl is running well behind Healey, just as Trump lagged behind Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden on the ballot in Massachusetts in past elections.

But Diehl and his supporters say they have passion on their side. They also point out that politics can deliver surprises — even in Massachusetts. Just ask Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican who shocked Democrats in 2010, when he won a special election to become U.S. Senator.

Healey and her fellow Democrats are determined to avoid another surprise like that this year. And they're hoping Trump helps make the difference in November.

This segment aired on September 28, 2022.

Related:

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

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