An article in Thursday's editions inaccurately stated that no Republican has held statewide office in Massachusetts since 1972. Francis Sargent, a Republican, served as governor from 1971 to 1974.
In a stuffy meeting room at the stately Parker House hotel here, the Massachusetts Republican Party unveiled its latest candidate for governor, George S. Kariotis, 63, a former Democrat who once served as the state's economic affairs director.
Flanked by the party hierarchy, Kariotis, a millionaire entrepreneur in high technology, told how his immigrant parents raised four children on welfare, but always held on to "the American Dream."
It seemed like a typical campaign sendoff -- except that the general election is only 14 weeks away and two other Republican gubernatorial candidates already have dropped out of the race in some of the most embarrassing moments this state's GOP has ever suffered.
Kariotis' Parker House debut last week was meant to signify the party's resurrection. "Scandals and problems with particular candidates are not permanent," said party Chairman Andrew S. Natsios, who is also running for state auditor.
Natsios, 36, has taken the heat for the party's disastrous efforts to come up with someone to run against the immensely popular Democratic Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and his $1 million war chest. He calls his party woes temporary blips. "The Democrats had Chappaquiddick and nobody suggested the Democratic Party was falling apart," said Natsios.
The scene at the Parker House last week concealed a battle between conservative factions for control of the party apparatus, intensified by public humiliation over the gubernatorial candidates.
"The party is going through the kind of change that is quite normal," said multimillionaire businessman Raymond Shamie, who emerged as the state's ethnic conservative guru after he defeated Boston Brahmin Elliot L. Richardson in the 1984 primary for U.S. Senate. Shamie lost the Senate race to Democrat John F. Kerry.
"Don't we always go through phases like this?" remarked Shamie, who is a leader of the fight against the more moderate Natsios forces.
There has been a major change in the Republican Party here in recent years. The Yankee politicians who once stocked the Republican ballot with names such as Richardson and Saltonstall and Lodge have faded away. The conservative descendants of immigrants who have taken their place -- many from upper echelons of high-tech businesses like Shamie and now Kariotis -- have the money to run for office, but have yet to learn how to win.
"The old party has disappeared and there's been a struggle about what the new party will be," said Natsios, who is writing a book about the rise and fall of Bay State Republicans.
The Republican Party is tiny in this state -- only 12 percent of the 3 million registered voters are Republicans -- and it is constantly bucking the state's Democratic reputation. No Republican has held a statewide office since 1972, and Republican candidates are signed up in only three of 10 congressional races and 70 of 200 contests for seats in the state legislature.
Under the best conditions, a Republican run against Dukakis this year looks futile. Dukakis presides over a state with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, the fourth highest level of personal income and a high-speed economy.
But nobody would have predicted the scenario that unfolded in past weeks as the Republican gubernatorial effort, which was weak from the start, collapsed into political wreckage.
"If you had written a script to follow what happened, nobody would have believed it," said White House aide Andrew H. Card Jr., who unsuccessfully ran for the 1982 gubernatorial nomination.
The troubles began in June, when the candidate the party endorsed at its convention, state Rep. Royall H. Switzler, confessed that he had embellished his military record. In an extraordinary television appearance, Switzler publicly apologized and then dropped out of the race -- and out of sight.
Another candidate, lawyer Gregory S. Hyatt, was accused by a former employer of bizarre behavior, including twice being seen nude in his office and talking on the telephone to nonexistent callers. Hyatt, who had been a leader in the 1980 push for the tax-cutting referendum known as Proposition 2 1/2, denied the one-way phone calls and said he had changed clothes on occasion in his office.
"I honestly believed at three or four spots along the way that the whole thing couldn't get worse," said Republican political consulant Jack Flannery, "and then it did."
It was discovered that hundreds of signatures on Hyatt's nomination papers were forgeries. Hyatt denied any knowledge of this, won a technical victory to remain on the September ballot and refused Republican pleas that he drop out. When it was revealed two weeks ago that Hyatt was overheard on a wiretap asking a reputed organized crime figure for a contribution, he bowed out, without comment.
Before Hyatt abandoned his candidacy, Natsios appointed a 37-member, blue-ribbon selection committee to find a suitable candidate. Kariotis was selected after he spent three hours behind closed doors explaining why his company, Alpha Industries, pleaded guilty in May 1985 to making kickbacks for government contracts. Kariotis said his brother was in charge of the company then and that he returned to the company to straighten it out.
The chairman of the selection committee, former governor John Volpe, emerged from the meeting to tell a television reporter "we are satisfied he is clean."
At his maiden news conference, Kariotis had to explain the morning headlines saying his company had also paid a $60,000 fine for a pollution violation. Kariotis said he was working for the state government when the company was told of the violation, and he noted that the prosecutor's office had commended his company for its cooperation in resolving the case.
This week, Kariotis was under renewed scrutiny. The Boston Herald reported that he was billed for $10,000 in back taxes and fined $5,000 in 1984 for failing to pay state sales tax on a yacht bought in Florida. The candidate said he had planned to use the 43-foot boat in a Florida charter business that fell through, and had argued unsuccessfully with the state that he had berthed the boat in Massachusetts for only a short time.
As for the future, said John W. Sears, who was demolished by Dukakis in the 1982 race for governor, "Michael must move on at some point . . . . He can't be governor forever."