Sen. Rausch facing challenge from Dooley in redrawn district

Rep. has Baker on his side; Healey staying out of race

A clarification has been added to this story.

ONE OF THIS ELECTION’S most interesting political races features a progressive Democratic incumbent state senator who appears to have limited support within her own party facing a challenge from a state rep who may or may not have voted for Donald Trump but fashions himself a Charlie Baker Republican.

Sen. Becca Rausch is the incumbent. She won what had been a reliable Republican seat in 2018 by 1,974 votes, or nearly three percentage points. She won in 2020 by 19,030 votes, or nearly 20 percentage points. She is now facing Republican Rep. Shawn Dooley of Norfolk, a House member since 2014, in a redrawn Senate district that Dooley views as a welcome map for a GOP challenge.

Gov. Charlie Baker has endorsed Dooley, even though the two politicians disagree on several major issues. During the pandemic, for example, Dooley called the governor “King Charles” for imposing COVID restrictions on the public without consulting the Legislature. The two politicians, however, have never stopped talking to each other and share much in common. Both are fiscal conservatives and have shown a willingness to talk to both Republicans and Democrats.

“If you want to have a voice, you have to be willing to listen to both sides and be willing to compromise,” says Dooley, whose campaign lawn signs feature a smiley face.

Dooley also endeared himself to Baker by trying to unseat Jim Lyons as chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party because he felt the party was veering too far to the Trumpian right and becoming too negative. Dooley lost that race by a vote of 39-36.

Rausch says she has delivered for her district. She has championed the cause of reproductive freedom, helped create a text line where young people can seek mental health help, and brought home more than $25 million in infrastructure aid to her district.

There are whispers, however, that she is not well liked on Beacon Hill. Redistricting, the outgrowth of a legislative process, reshaped her district fairly dramatically for this election, prompting the name of the district to change from Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex to Norfolk, Worcester, and Middlesex.

A goal of redistricting was to keep towns together. Rausch’s new district now contains all of her hometown of Needham, a plus for her, but she lost Natick, Wayland, Wellesley, Attleborough, and North Attleborough. Her district added Bellingham, Dover, Medfield, and Milford.

Attorney General Maura Healey, the Democratic candidate for governor, has endorsed 17 of the 19 Democrats running for reelection in the Senate who are facing challengers. The only two she has not endorsed are Michael Brady of Brockton and Rausch.

“We don’t have a comment on the Rausch/Dooley race,” a Healey campaign spokesperson said in a statement.

Rausch brushed aside a question about Healey, saying she had canvassed voters with the attorney general recently.

Dooley is dumbfounded. “The fact that she’s not endorsing her, I think that’s significant,” Dooley says.

Rauch, in an interview, is quick to go on the offensive against Dooley. She points out he may have been endorsed by the governor, but he’s no moderate on most issues. She paints her rival as a right-winger on the wrong side of a host of progressive issues. She claims Dooley is an abortion opponent, voted twice for Donald Trump, and was rated the most conservative lawmaker in Massachusetts by the American Conservative Union in 2021.

“His extremism is too much for this district,” says Rausch, who has championed abortion rights and at times been a fierce opponent of the way Baker handled the pandemic, particularly in regard to facemask mandates.

“These are not times for smiley faces and shenanigans,” she says.

Dooley says Rausch is playing fast and loose with the facts. He says he doesn’t oppose abortion, but did join with Baker in opposing legislation that allows women as young as 16 to obtain abortions without parental consent. He also says his rating with the American Conservative Union was based primarily on his votes on fiscal issues. “I’m a fiscal conservative,” he says.

As for voting for Trump, he said he never gets into discussions on how he voted. He says he did not vote twice for Trump and adds that “I’ve never been a Trump guy.”  (CLARIFICATION: The original version of this story indicated Dooley had voted for Trump once, but Dooley says he never discloses whom he votes for.)

Rausch also objected to Dooley’s decision to spend $122 in campaign funds in June 2021 at a Trump-owned hotel in Washington, DC. She questioned his failure to disclose what the expenditure was for – a misstep he later corrected – and criticized his decision to patronize a Trump hotel. “He made a choice,” she says.

Dooley says he took a constituent out for a beer and appetizers at the hotel restaurant. (His campaign finance records indicate he also spent $386 on a meeting at the Trump International Hotel in 2017.)

Rausch says she will vote yes on Question 1, which would impose a 4 percent income tax surcharge on income over $1 million, and yes on Question 4, which would retain a law a law passed by the Legislature allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Dooley says he intends to vote no on both questions. He says the so-called millionaire tax is dangerous policy at a time when the state is already flush with money and wealthy individuals can move their residences to lower-tax states easier than ever.

He says he intends to vote no on the driver’s license question for many of the same reasons Baker vetoed the legislation as governor – because he believes it will disincentivize immigrants from seeking citizenship and because the Registry of Motor Vehicles is not equipped to verify the identity of applicants.

Dooley acknowledges he is a conservative, but insists he is no extremist. And he suggests with Baker retiring in January, voters may want another Republican in the Senate to provide some alternative viewpoints.

“Is Massachusetts Charlie Baker country or are we A.O.C. country?” he asks, referring to US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.