The Republican State Committee expects a bruising fight over its leadership Thursday night, with the vote for chairman still too close to call between the handpicked candidate of former senator Scott Brown and a conservative challenger.
Massachusetts Republicans, chastened by their losses in November, remain bitterly divided over the direction of their party, even as they face another special election to US Senate, following John F. Kerry’s exit to become secretary of state.
Even with a June 25 date set for the special election and a primary beginning to take shape on the Democratic side, Brown has not signaled whether he will try to reclaim a seat in the Senate, as many Republicans hope. His campaign spokesman, who has not responded to requests for comment about the chairmanship over the past month, did not respond Wednesday.
But Brown could have a considerable advantage if an ally controls the purse strings of the state party, for which he raised significant sums of money during his reelection campaign. The state GOP ended November with $837,051 left in its US account, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Since last month, Brown has been trying to help elect his campaign’s deputy finance director, Kirsten Hughes, as party leader. Brown has been making calls on her behalf in recent weeks, and urging members to vote for her. Until Wednesday, Hughes’s list of endorsements still lagged behind her rival, Pepperell businessman Rick Green.
But with only a handful of votes up for grabs, each candidate is still trying to peel off crucial supporters from the 80 members of the state committee who vote for chairman. Each campaign is expected to stage a demonstration of signholders outside the Crowne Plaza in Natick, before holding receptions to woo potential supporters before the meeting starts.
Activists for both sides see this as a critical juncture for the state GOP, which saw its hopes elevated by Brown’s 2010 special election win, then dashed by his defeat in November. Will the party follow the centrist course charted by Brown and his predecessors who found success in liberal Massachusetts in years past? Or will conservative activists try to push the party to the right? Many state Republicans complain their leaders use the party for their own political gain and fail to foster it in a way that will produce other viable candidacies.
“Just coming from our camp’s perspective, the race has always been about trying to change the direction of the Massachusetts Republican Party,” said state Representative Ryan C. Fattman of Sutton, who serves as Green’s campaign chairman. “That long-term approach dedicated to building the party from the bottom up and making sure that we make the right investments now so that they pay dividends in the future.”
Hughes, 35, is a lawyer who worked for the Massachusetts GOP, running the 2010 state convention and serving as political field director. She was also elected to the City Council last year in the Democratic stronghold of Quincy.
Hughes is running on an inclusive, “big-tent” approach to the party, telling state committee members in an introductory letter that the party’s divisions are caused by “those who would impose an ideological litmus test.”
“Look, I am a Republican in Massachusetts. Our numbers are small as it is,” Hughes said in an interview Wednesday. “At the end of the day, the chairman’s job is not to parse ideology. It’s to elect more Republicans.”
Green, 42, has picked up support from libertarians and Tea Party members, and conservatives alienated by Brown’s focus on bipartisanship in his unsuccessful reelection bid. Green is also a founder of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a nonprofit that became a prominent conservative voice in the last year. Among the group’s leadership team is onetime party chairman Jim Rappaport, a wealthy businessman who made waves by challenging Kerry Healey in a primary to become Mitt Romney’s running mate for governor in 2002.
The campaigns for Green and Hughes have been sparring online, with supporters for each posting increasingly heated missives on the website www.redmassgroup.com.
Hughes’s detractors questioned her devotion to the party, noting that although she registered as a Republican in Quincy in 1998, she didn’t begin voting there until 2009. She said she voted in 2004 and 2008 in New York, where she had been pursuing a career.
Green was not a registered Republican himself until 2010, voter registration data shows in his hometown.
According to the Pepperell town clerk’s office, Green first registered to vote in 2003, without picking a party, before he registered as a Republican in 2010.
“I’ve only ever voted for Republicans in my entire voting life — from the time I was 18,” Green said in an interview.
Green also rejected criticism that he or his organization favored certain Republicans over others, tacking toward more conservative candidates.
“If elected chairman, I am committed to electing Republicans at all levels – from selectperson and school committee through state and local candidates, Congress and US Senate,” Green said.
The party’s leader will succeed Robert A. Maginn Jr., an ally of former governor Mitt Romney, who proved a controversial figure as head of the party last year. Soon after his election, the Globe reported that Maginn had contributed to Governor Deval Patrick’s reelection. He also hired several former GOP operatives as consultants to his software company while they served as unpaid advisers to the party.