Another test for the state’s struggling GOP

Disarray at the top is having big repercussions

IT’S HARD TO TELL what the Massachusetts Republican Party stands for these days.

Gov. Charlie Baker, the state’s leading Republican, disavowed President Trump on Monday, calling him out for his lack of compassion and leadership. “That’s not what we need in Boston, it’s not what we need right now in Massachusetts, and it’s definitely not what we need across this great country of ours either,” he said.

Yet the party apparatus in Massachusetts is controlled by Republicans who are strong backers of Trump. Jim Lyons, the party chair, is pleading with donors to open their checkbooks to “show President Trump that Massachusetts conservatives have his back and want to help him Keep America Great!”

The mixed messages at the top of the relatively small party appear to be having severe repercussions in local campaigns. The party lost two seats in the Senate last month in special elections, and the GOP now holds just four seats in the 40-member body.

Two seats in the House are up for grabs today. Republican Catherine Clark of Lunenburg is running against Democrat Danillo Sena for the House seat vacated by Democrat Jennifer Benson and Republican Kelly Dooner is running against Democrat Carol Doherty for the seat that opened up when Republican Shaunna O’Connell left the House to become mayor of Taunton.

Democrats would appear to have an edge in both races, in part because the Republican candidates are not getting much help from their party. Lyons admitted last week that the party is in “dire straits” and “in danger of losing to the Beacon Hill radicals.”

Baker, meanwhile, appears to be pursuing a strategy of supporting candidates who he feels are more like him – mostly Republicans but some Democrats – using a super PAC with close ties to him called Massachusetts Majority.

Here’s how the situation is playing out financially in the two special elections being held today.

Clark, a realtor from Lunenburg, has raised a total of $13,832 this year, while Sena, a former district director for Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton, has raised more than $33,000.

The Massachusetts Majority super PAC is all in with Clark. The PAC spent $7,332 supporting her primary campaign and another $11,472 backing her run against Sena.  Sena, meanwhile, has also received PAC backing. The Mass Values PAC, which is funded by the Service Employees International Union, has spent $20,830 on his behalf.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Tooner, a paralegal who has the endorsement of O’Connell, has raised slightly more money than Doherty in their race, but she has received no help from the Baker-affiliated PAC. By contrast, the Mass Values PAC has spent $31,942 on behalf of Doherty, a retired educator and long-time Taunton School Committee member.

The results of the two House races should be another indication of which direction the Republican Party is headed in in Massachusetts.