FALL RIVER, Mass. — The Trumpian domination of the Republican Party reflected in Liz Cheney’s landslide defeat in Wyoming on Tuesday is about more than one brave dissenter. It promises to destroy the last vestiges of moderate Republicanism in states where a different kind of GOP is hanging by a thread.
One very likely beneficiary: Massachusetts’ Democratic attorney general, Maura Healey, who has a good shot — the right expression for a former basketball star — at becoming a national figure.
Currently running more than 30 points ahead of both of her potential Republican opponents, Healey is poised to become the state’s first elected female governor and the nation’s first openly lesbian governor. (It’s a title she might share with Oregon’s Democratic nominee for governor, House Speaker Tina Kotek.)
Healey combines a progressive outlook with a strong streak of economic populism and a personal identification with the state’s working-class voters, raised as she was in a family of five kids by her mom, a school nurse.
A typical Healeyism: “My second favorite job to being attorney general was my years cocktail waitressing at a beach casino,” she told me during a campaign stop here. “Probably learned more there than I learned at Harvard.”
A Republican Party “taken over by an extreme agenda,” as she put it, is making her campaign a lot easier. “I admire Liz Cheney for her pursuit of the truth and of the facts,” she said in an interview after touring a new high school on Tuesday in nearby Attleboro. “And, you know, the idea that she would lose her seat because of that is a really sad commentary … on the state of the Republican Party.”
Resist the temptation to think that electing a Democratic governor in blue Massachusetts is no big deal. Since 1991, Democrats have held the top job for only eight years (under Deval Patrick) because voters here like to balance a perpetually Democratic state legislature with Republican chief executives, as long as they’re reasonable and moderate.
Also: Massachusetts is not as liberal as advertised; witness Trump’s strength in many of the state’s old factory towns.
The most recent beneficiary of Bay State voters’ tendency to pick a GOP governor — to “keep an eye on the legislature and the economy,” as Jim Roosevelt, a longtime Democratic National Committee member, put it — is Gov. Charlie Baker. He swept to victory twice and is often mentioned, along with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, as part of a triumvirate of middle-ground GOP political leaders who thrived in the Trump era.
After November, only Scott has a chance of surviving. Neither Baker nor Hogan is running for reelection, and Maryland Republicans nominated state Del. Dan Cox, a Trump-backed extremist whom Hogan has denounced. This opens the way for another Democrat promising to make national waves, writer and nonprofit CEO Wes Moore. His expected victory would make him the state’s first Black governor.
It’s a sign of Healey’s dominance and Massachusetts Democrats’ intense desire to win that all her primary opponents dropped out of the race. The two Republicans competing in the Sept. 6 primary to face her seem unlikely to fare better. Former state representative Geoff Diehl is running with Trump’s endorsement against businessman Chris Doughty, who is the more moderate candidate but still to Baker’s right.
New Hampshire’s Republican governor, Chris Sununu, crossed state lines to endorse Doughty as the only Republican with a chance to prevail, but Baker has held back. His lack of enthusiasm was reflected last month in his coy explanation on Boston’s WGBH radio for not making a pick. “I have a lot of work to do,” Baker said. “And I have a day job.”
No one is more aware than Healey that lots of voters who backed Baker, particularly Democrats and independents, are ready to support her. In our interview, she didn’t hold back in praising Baker for having “worked intently to try to deliver for the residents and respond to their needs.” She added: “We worked collaboratively on a range of issues over the last eight years, even though from the outset and when we both took office, people wanted to pit us against one another.”
Healey’s signature is her time as a basketball player, in college and in a pro turn in Europe. When a campaign stop finds her near a hoop, her aides try to make a ball available. From the start of her electoral career, she has used basketball to drive home two themes: her devotion to teamwork and her toughness.
“When you’re a 5-4 pro basketball player, you learn to take on the big guys,” she declared in the opening ad of her 2014 campaign for attorney general.
As it happens, Healey’s office sued Trump 96 times on policy questions. And in this year’s election, the big guy who has once again demonstrated his dominance of Republican politics is giving her a major assist.