The duel over Diehl
Can Gonzalez capitalize on this moment?
THE BIT MOMENT in this week’s gubernatorial debate between Governor Charlie Baker and his Democratic opponent Jay Gonzalez was not about being governor at all. It came down to a duel over the Republican candidate for Senate, Geoff Diehl. Diehl was the Massachusetts co-chair for Trump’s presidential campaign, and has closely aligned himself with the President’s policies. Trump is deeply unpopular in Massachusetts, making associations with him a potential liability in a statewide general election.
Prior to the debate, Baker awkwardly sidestepped the question of whether he would endorse Diehl, saying instead he endorsed the full Republican ticket. Last night, Jay Gonzalez dug in, asking Baker point-blank if his endorsement means he actually plans to vote for Diehl. The Governor’s fumbling answer did not help. During the debate, he said he hadn’t made a decision. Then in the post-debate scrum, he claimed he misspoke and said he would vote for Diehl. Baker famously blanked his presidential ballot in 2016 rather than supporting Trump, and is often criticized for avoiding tough positions on hot button issues.The question now is whether Gonzalez can capitalize on this moment. Despite being a major party nominee, Diehl is not widely known. A majority of voters in a UMass-Lowell/Boston Globe poll of likely voters said they had either never heard of Diehl (29 percent) or had no opinion (21 percent). In our poll with WBUR back in September, just 28 percent said Baker’s endorsement would make them less likely to vote for his reelection while 55 percent said it would make no difference.
Then there is the question of resources. Jay Gonzalez has struggled to raise the kinds of money usually needed to spread a message statewide, and many Democratic heavy hitters have either stayed on the sidelines, or backed Baker. The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance reports Gonzalez with $677,000 as of October 15th, largely from a recent influx of public funding, compared to $4.5 million for Baker.