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Even In Massachusetts, The Midterms Are All About Trump

President Trump's shadow is shown on an American flag as he speaks before signing an executive order in Charlotte on Aug. 31, 2018. (Chuck Burton/AP)
President Trump's shadow is shown on an American flag as he speaks before signing an executive order in Charlotte on Aug. 31, 2018. (Chuck Burton/AP)

The midterm elections represent a referendum on President Trump, which means he is casting a long shadow over hundreds of political races across the country, including those in Massachusetts.

Consider the race for U.S. Senate here, in which Trump is a central focus. In two debates over the weekend, Elizabeth Warren’s central line of attack against her Republican challenger, state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who co-chaired the Trump campaign in Massachusetts, was that Diehl is too closely aligned with the president.

“My opponent … has said that if he’s elected he will have Donald Trump’s back 100 percent of the time,” Warren said in one debate.

For his part, Diehl attacks Warren for being overly focused on opposing Trump — at the expense of Massachusetts.

“Senator Warren continues to talk about Donald Trump and Vice President Pence because this is what she’s all about,” he said. “She wants to go to the White House. She doesn’t care about your house. She cares about the White House.”

Warren has said she will consider running for president after the November election, though she’s already done a lot to lay the groundwork, which Diehl is trying to use against her.

In the primary, he was able to mobilize the state’s pro-Trump Republicans and beat out two more moderate candidates (Beth Lindstrom and John Kingston), but Diehl faces a much bigger challenge in the general election against Warren.

“Geoff Diehl running as Trump just isn’t resonating,” said Erin O’Brien, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts Boston, who points out that the most recent polls have Diehl trailing Warren by more than 20 points in a state that voted 2 to 1 against Trump.

“The people who like [Diehl] in Massachusetts love [him],” O’Brien said. “There are just not enough of them for Geoff Diehl to carry the day.”

But that doesn’t stop Trump from forcing his way into the race by attacking — and mocking — Warren in an effort to whip us his base.

“Pocahontas — they always want me to apologize for saying it,” Trump said at a rally last month in Mississippi, delivering his favorite attack line against the Massachusetts senator. “To the fake Pocahontas, I won’t apologize.”

The attacks prompted Warren to take a DNA test to support her claim that she has Indian ancestry. The senator says she did it in the name of transparency, but she also hoped it would take the issue away from the president, but it hasn’t.

“Who cares?” Trump said to reporters when asked about Warren’s DNA test.

Eileen McNamara, an author and Cognoscenti contributor, said when Warren took that DNA test, she walked right into Trump’s trap.

“He is a master of distraction, and she fell for it,” according to McNamara, who argues Warren would be better off criticizing the president on policy rather than getting into the mud with him. “He’s just playing his game, and she plays it badly.”

So, this election season is all about Trump, a fact that the president likes to bring up, as he did in Mississippi last month. “I’m not on the ticket. But I am on the ticket, because this is also a referendum about me,” Trump said.

Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic consultant with the Dewey Square Group, agrees with the president, and said Trump is on the ballot in just about every race in the country.

“Every candidate will be measured — especially Democrats — on their opposition to Donald Trump,” Marsh said.

A case in point is Ayanna Pressley, who ousted Congressman Mike Capuano in the 7th district Democratic primary last month. Although Pressley and Capuano agreed on most major issues, including their opposition to Trump, Marsh says Pressley’s pledge “to build a movement” to oppose the president helped her win.

“Voters today saw that approach as a more compelling way to take on Trump,” Marsh said. “So, if you’re a Democrat and you’re running for office this year, your opposition to Donald Trump is everything.”

In the race for governor, opposition to Trump may not be “everything,” but Democrat Jay Gonzalez is trying to use it to gain some traction against a popular governor in an effort to link Charlie Baker to Diehl and, by extension, to Trump.

“Are you going to vote for Geoff Diehl?” Gonzalez asked Baker last week in their most recent debate.

It was an awkward moment for Baker, who had said that he would support the full Republican ticket, but who appeared unready for the question and uncertain how to answer.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with respect to that one,” responded Baker, which prompted debate moderator Jim Braude to ask, “You don’t know if you’re going to vote for the guy you endorsed?”

“I haven’t made a decision,” Baker repeated.

After the debate, Baker offered that he had “misspoke” and said that he would vote the ticket, which allowed Gonzalez to make his point: that Baker, a pro-choice, pro-gun control Republican who didn’t vote for Trump, is endorsing the state’s top Trump supporter.

“[Baker] can’t say he is for a woman’s right to choose, for LGBQT rights, and then ask the people of Massachusetts to support Geoff Diehl,” Gonzalez said. “Where does he stand?”

Baker might have stumbled on the question about Diehl, but trying to link him to Trump is a tough case to make, according to UMass Boston’s O’Brien, who says Baker may be among the most prominent anti-Trump Republicans in the nation.

So, when Gonzalez brings up Trump, “Baker is actually benefiting,” O’Brien said. “Charlie Baker is winning because he is the Republican who is not Trump.”

O’Brien may be right, but that won’t stop Gonzalez from playing the Trump card against Baker. And it won’t stop Trump from dominating the current political season.

Copyright 2018 WBUR

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