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MassGOP wipeout has Republicans pondering party's future

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Geoff Diehl speaks to supporters at the Boston Harbor Hotel after losing his bid for Governor. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Geoff Diehl speaks to supporters at the Boston Harbor Hotel after losing his bid for Governor. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Republicans had a rough election in Massachusetts this week, despite some pickups in the rest of the country.

The GOP lost every single statewide contest here, all nine Congressional races, two key county races and some legislative races. And the Republican nominee for governor, Geoff Diehl, lost by such a wide margin to Democrat Maura Healey that the Associated Press called the race within minutes after the polls closed.

"I think the Republican Party is underwater and will be for years to come right now," said longtime GOP consultant Rob Gray.

Gray notes that Republicans have enjoyed success for decades in Massachusetts by nominating moderates for governor — people like current Gov. Charlie Baker and past governors Mitt Romney, Paul Cellucci and William Weld.

But Gray says Donald Trump's influence on the party has made it harder to win.

"Donald Trump hijacked the national Republican Party and then he hijacked the Massachusetts Republican Party," Gray said. "Baker lost control and Trump supporters took over."

Those Trump supporters include Diehl, who won the GOP nomination with Trump's help, only to lose badly in the general election on Tuesday. Another key Trump supporter is the party chairman, Jim Lyons.

Lyons refused to answer questions when leaving the election party Tuesday night. But in the weeks leading up to the election, he argued voters want to see strong Republican candidates who will fight for conservative values.

"I think what the people of Massachusetts want to see is a Republican Party that doesn't ... go along with everything that the Democrats do," Lyons said. "There has to be a distinction in Massachusetts between what the Democratic Party stands for and what the Republican Party stands for."

But increasingly, Republicans have little power in the state.

In addition to losing the statewide and Congressional races this week, Republicans also fell short in several down-ballot contests. That includes Republican Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who has been a huge admirer of Trump.

On Cape Cod, the party lost a legislative seat, as well as bids to replace a Republican sheriff and a GOP district attorney who decided not to seek re-election.

And when the new Legislature takes office in January, 85% of the 200 lawmakers will be Democrats.

Still, Baker, the outgoing Republican governor, sloughed off questions from reporters Wednesday about his party's future.

"I'm still the governor," Baker said. "I got a job I got to do for the next 58 days or so, and then we can talk about that stuff."

Already, there are rumblings that some Republicans are looking for new leadership.

Politico reported that party vice chair Jay Fleitman plans to run for party chairman in January. He told Politico the party needs serious rebuilding after getting swamped in Tuesday's election.

But until at least the next election, Republicans will have little say in how the state is run.

Related:

Steve Brown Twitter Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.

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