Showdown in southern suburbs for open state Senate seat
By Stephanie Ebbert, BOSTON GLOBE STAFF
BROCKTON — The Democrat is a longtime politician from Brockton who campaigned Sunday at a VFW kickoff for a motorcycle ride and who unapologetically promises to deliver state resources and jobs.own party and who championed last year’s ballot initiative to block the gas tax from being increased automatically.
The Republican is an antigovernment legislator who has been a dissident within his own party and who championed last year’s ballot initiative to block the gas tax from being increased automatically.
The high-stakes showdown between the two partisan figures comes on Tuesday, when state Representatives Michael D. Brady, the Democrat, and Geoffrey G. Diehl, the Republican, face off in a special election that would promote one of them to the Senate. The special election in the Southeastern Massachusetts district, the only legislative contest Tuesday, was scheduled to replace Democrat Senator Thomas P. Kennedy, who died in June.
Brady, a working-class Democrat, is a familiar face in Brockton, having served on the Brockton School Committee and City Council before his four terms as a legislator. His campaign stops Sunday focused on church congregations, motorcyclists, and Brockton firefighters, who lamented the lack of funding for equipment and pledged to hold signs for him on Election Day.
“I’ve known Mike for a long time. Mike’s always done right by us. He’s got my vote,” Deputy Chief Mark Baker told a room full of 11 other firefighters.
“Maybe we can get some money for our station,” Captain Richard Costa said.
With teamwork as a running theme, Brady kicked off the day at a rally with 10 current or former Democratic legislators.
“It is about the working people — getting revenue for our constituency. Getting jobs,” Brady told supporters. “The other side is looking to cut, cut, cut. It all sounds good. But we need the revenue.”
Among his supporters was Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, who told the volunteers at a morning rally, “There’s no room in the Senate for people who do not understand that it’s the working people who need the help of government.”
Meanwhile, Governor Charlie Baker joined Diehl at two campaign stops, holding court behind the bar in a barroom in Whitman and toasting with water in a lively pub in Hanson. In Whitman, Diehl told voters he wants to make sure Beacon Hill is held accountable. Supporters, playing off his name, chanted, “Real Deal!”
“The voters have a clear choice in this race — someone who has consistently voted to increase taxes every opportunity that’s possible vs. someone who has looked for alternative ways to bring revenue in,” Diehl said, citing his support for a tax amnesty plan that allowed businesses to pay back debts to the state without penalty. “We don’t ask citizens to tighten their belts when Beacon Hill has been reluctant to tighten their belts for a long time.”
Diehl, who lives in Whitman, hails from the most conservative wing of the minority party in Massachusetts and picks up Tea Party support, and he recently attended a Donald Trump presidential fund-raiser. He has sometimes alienated people even in his party — losing his committee position earlier this year after associating himself with a group trying to oust their House Republican leader, Bradley Jones.
On the trail Sunday, Democrats used that reputation to suggest that the affable Brady would be better suited to working with his colleagues to get results.
“We can’t afford for this city to elect a lone wolf to this Senate position,” said Representative Claire D. Cronin, an Easton Democrat who also represents Brockton.
Diehl countered that he has worked across the aisle — and even formed an unusual partnership with Evan Falchuk, a United Independent Party gubernatorial candidate, to fight the use of taxpayer money to pay for the Olympics in Boston.
“It’s not about party. It’s not about geography,” Diehl said.
Marty Lamb, a Tea Party leader from Holliston who has run unsuccessfully for Congress and who was campaigning for Diehl on Sunday, said, “I think people see him for what he is — a sincere person.”
“I like what he does,” said Jonathan White, a project manager at Harvard Business School who met Diehl at a Whitman Finance Committee meeting and has supported him since. “He doesn’t follow party leaders. He’s an independent thinker.”
The election has attracted interest from outside groups, which have poured funds into mailers and super PACs campaigning in parallel with the candidates.
One mailer from the Massachusetts Citizens for Life shows a baby and the headline, “This little girl needs your vote!” That urges voters to side with Diehl because he opposes abortion.
While teachers unions have spent nearly $3,000 advocating for Brady, Diehl has gained outside help from a super PAC called Jobs First, which had spent more than $21,000 opposing Brady’s campaign and supporting Diehl.
Democrats have been concerned about losing the seat in the Senate, though they dominate the chamber: Only six of 40 seats are held by Republicans.
The Second Plymouth and Bristol Senatorial District has grown increasingly conservative. Though the district is anchored by Brockton, a gritty urban outpost for Democrats, it’s surrounded by more conservative-leaning towns including Whitman, Hanson, East Bridgewater, Hanover, and Halifax, where Diehl is expected to do well. Democrats are counting on a big turnout in Brockton, which has a competitive race for mayor on Tuesday, making it the only municipality in the district with another contest that could draw voters.
But Republicans aren’t ceding ground and Diehl said he has been knocking on doors in Brockton.
“Turnout is the ballgame,” Baker told the crowd in the Whitman bar. “People win based on who shows up. That’s the way these elections work.”