Graham: ‘Squishy’ Republican could beat Liz Warren

October 10, 2017 GMT

Here in deep-blue New England, the most popular elected official is ... Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. For two years he’s had an approval rating of around 70 percent.

Other politicians with high approval ratings around these parts include Republican governors Phil Scott of Vermont (62 percent) and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire (57 percent).

To put these New England Republicans’ poll numbers in context, all three of them are at least as popular as Massachusetts’ two U.S. senators, Elizabeth Warren (57 percent) and Ed Markey (55 percent), in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than three to one.

There’s a similar story in deep-blue Maryland, another state with two uber-liberal U.S. senators, a legislature dominated by Democrats ... and a wildly-popular Republican governor, Larry Hogan (68 percent approval).

You know who isn’t popular in any of these states? Donald J. Trump. He has an approval rating of 30 percent or lower in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maryland. Meanwhile he has record-setting “strongly disapprove” numbers in New England for a newly elected president.

So why in the world are Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts like state Rep. Geoff Diehl and entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai trying to prove they’re the Trumpiest guy in the race? Why aren’t we looking for the next Charlie Baker?

This has absolutely nothing to do with liking or hating President Trump, and everything to do with that crazy little thing called “winning the [bleep]ing election.” Baker and Scott and Hogan have literally given Massachusetts Republicans the playbook:

Be smart, be moderate and be nice.

Or to put it another way, “NOT Donald Trump.”

I understand that my fellow movement conservatives here in Massachusetts want to nominate a real Republican, not some moderate squish. We often talk about it when the three of us meet for coffee at a single table at IHOP.

But the other 99 percent of Massachusetts voters (yes, I exaggerate, but only slightly) don’t agree. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee may be popular in Utah and Texas, but look around — how many longhorn cattle and/or Mormons do you see? Particularly since Mitt left?

The last time a Republican won a non-special election for federal office in Massachusetts, Tom Brady was still in high school (1994). Twenty-three years, five Super Bowl rings and three World Series wins later, no Republican has come close. (Even as an incumbent, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown lost by 7 points.) Charlie Baker, on the other hand, is crushing it — even with Trump at the top of the ticket.

The Diehl campaign is quick to point out that 45,000 more people voted for Trump in 2016 than Baker in 2014. “If you give voters a choice between a Democrat and Democrat-lite, they’ll vote the Democrat,” they insist.

Really? In 2014 Republicans won with “Democrat-lite” Baker and he’s the front-runner headed into next year.

I don’t know who the right Senate candidate is, or even who will end up running at this point. But it looks like there will be some “Charlie Baker Republicans” in the mix — like former Romney aide Beth Lindstrom and businessman John Kingston. Their challenge will be to win the nomination in a state where Trump won 50 percent in the GOP primary, but a paltry 32 percent in November — the worst-ever performance here by a Republican candidate for president.

Why waste a chance to really challenge Elizabeth Warren? A New England moderate would have a chance to highlight her drift ever-farther to the left. The more the GOP candidate is identified with the political center, the more Warren’s decision to jump on the far left/single-payer/Bernie Bro bandwagon will bite.

But run a Trump-wannabe, and the entire conversation will be about The Donald, not Warren’s record.

Massachusetts conservatives, be smart. Vote for the squish — it’s important.

Michael Graham is a regular contributor to the Boston Herald. Follow him on Twitter @IAMMGraham.