Election highlights deep Mass. GOP divisions

Howie Carr jumped into the fray with robocalls

THE MASSACHUSETTS REPUBLICAN PARTY appears to be a mess.

The party, which currently claims only about 10 percent of the state’s registered voters, is splintering into pieces. There’s a wing of moderates who support Gov. Charlie Baker, a wing of President Trump supporters led by Mass GOP chair Jim Lyons, and a host of other conservative factions enthralled by specific issues of importance to them such as gay marriage and abortion.

In the run-up to this week’s election of the 80-member Republican state committee, the various sides clashed repeatedly, engaging in personal attacks, sleaze, and misinformation to damage the other side. “It’s the ultimate shootout in the rubber life raft,” said state Rep. Shawn Dooley of Norfolk, who was elected to the state committee this week.

What makes the infighting all the more bizarre is that it takes place in a Wild West campaign environment. Campaigns for party posts are not regulated by the state, so shadowy groups are free to spend whatever they want attacking each other while leaving no fingerprints behind.

The strange cast of characters includes people like Howie Carr, the radio show host and Boston Herald columnist, who was the voice for a series of robocalls that went out on Monday to rally support for the Lyons wing of the party. He said in his Herald column over the weekend that the robocall would be telling people who they should vote for “if you oppose Baker’s Trump-hating, gas-tax-raising slate of payroll patriots.”

“The battle going on between grassroots Republicans and the Republican establishment continues here in Massachusetts,” Carr said on the robocall. “Establishment politicians are playing dirty tricks and Tall Deval [Carr’s term for Baker] is using his super PAC to send mailings from Boston on behalf of swamp creature candidates. We must stop them and support reform candidates.”

Carr, who is registered as unenrolled – not a Republican – in Wellesley, referred people to a website where they could look up the name of the person he wanted them to vote for. He didn’t say who was paying for the robocalls, but he trumpeted a nonprofit called the Renew Massachusetts Coalition, whose president is Chanel Prunier, a former member of the Republican National Committee who is opposed to gay marriage and abortion.

The pro-Baker forces also mixed it up in the campaign, sending out a mailing that portrayed pro-Lyons candidate Patricia Saint Aubin of Norfolk as an old, tired woman who had cost the party a state Senate seat. The mailing even had a caricature of Trump saying: “Patty, you’re fired.”

Saint Aubin, a big Trump supporter, said she couldn’t believe the negative and misleading tone of the mailing. “It’s very sleazy,” she said. “These are Republicans we’re running against.”

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.

The official outcome of the 80 state committee races probably won’t be known until results are certified next week by the secretary of state’s office. State Republican officials are gathering election results, but in the meantime a number of activists have conducted their own assessments. Most of them have concluded that the Lyons forces have retained control of the party, and may have even increased their support on the state committee.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Ed Lyons, a Republican activist who supports Baker, said the forces aligned with Jim Lyons (no relation) had gained the upper hand. “I believe that Governor Baker’s influence on our MassGOP State Committee weakened last night, and Trump’s strengthened, despite the massive resources spent to move the party closer to actual voters,” he said.