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Analysis: Harrington Hopes Seemingly Rest on Battle of Biographies…

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, second left with Chip Harrington, second right in back row on Oct 6. (WMassP&I)

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, second left with Chip Harrington, second right in back row on Oct 6. (WMassP&I)

CHICOPEE—The event was a fundraiser and thus its purpose was principally to raise funds for the candidate. Less than five weeks before Election Day, it was also an introduction and an opportunity for locals to hobnob with Republican Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. But there was something missing from Republican James “Chip” Harrington’s event.

Though he has discussed issues during interviews and debated more Monday night, Harrington has yet to draw clear policy distinctions in support of his bid to defeat and replace Senator Eric Lesser. Harrington’s endeavor has seemed a redux of the case against Lesser in 2014.

The fundraiser last Thursday was organized by Victor Anop, an elected Chicopee assessor and included Republican grandees (of sorts) like former Longmeadow rep Mary Rogeness, former Westfield senator Michael Knapik and Debra Boronski, the Republican nominee Lesser defeated in 2014 (the latter two both now work for Gov. Charlie Baker, Harrington’s top supporter). In addition to raising money, the night’s purpose was to extol the candidate’s virtues and his biography and, by implication, pan Lesser’s.

“He is not somebody” who is, Polito said of Harrington in her remarks, “going to forget his roots.”

The 1st Hampden & Hampshire Senate District in gray. Click for larger view.. (via

The 1st Hampden & Hampshire Senate District in gray. Click for larger view.. (via

Harrington is seeking the 1st Hampden & Hampshire Senate seat, which covers Belchertown, East Longmeadow, Granby, Hampden, Longmeadow, Ludlow, Wilbraham and about a third of Chicopee and Springfield each.

Lesser’s reelection, long expected, was announced last month.

A Ludlow School Committee member, Harrington battled Lesser for the Democratic nomination two year ago. After a spell affiliated with neither major party, he registered as a Republican, and backed by Baker and the Massachusetts Republican party, launched a bid against his 2014 rival.

The result has been a campaign repeating lines fired from all sides of the 2014 campaign that tried to delegitimize Lesser as not 413-enough. With Lesser in office for nearly two years, those charges can seem warmed over.

“My resume is so much different than my opponent,” Harrington averred last Thursday, compared to Lesser whose “agenda is about himself.” But the conceit was that holding local elected office and owning a business was inherently superior to Lesser’s time on the Obama campaign, working in the White House or—unstated by Harrington—campaigning for education funding in Longmeadow.

Chip Harrington (via Instagram/@chipforsenate)

In an interview with WMassP&I, Harrington did spell out legislative priorities. He highlighted an economic development proposal for gateway cities that ties in public safety, similar to one Rep. Jose Tosado, a Democrat, had proposed this session. Harrington also said addressing the opiate epidemic was high on his priority list.

Though he argued “Nobody in the Senate was pushing [the gateway city proposal],” it is not something Lesser would oppose. Opiates have been no less a priority either. Lesser has campaigned funds for treatment and legislation on bulk-purchasing of anti-overdose drugs he has secured.

During a debate Monday night hosted by Focus Springfield, that city’s cable access channel, Harrington drew few policy distinctions from Lesser.

Among Republicans, reclaiming a seat held by Republicans until ten years ago seems an end in itself. Beyond boosting Harrington as a mensch, Polito feted the Baker’s administration’s work, including the control board to oversee the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority—something the Senate opposed but accepted in the FY2016 budget without a vote.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito (via Twitter/@massltgov)

Polito made little news Thursday night other than saying the Baker administration was “putting the right people in the right place” from the beginning, one day after the governor announced a purge of the scandal-ridden Department of Conservation & Recreation.

The GOP’s interest in this seat is puzzling. Presidential turnout favors Lesser and two years ago he defeated Boronski comfortably even as Baker easily carried the district. Despite the distance Harrington has tried to place between himself and real estate tycoon and provocateur Donald Trump, the distressingly vile presidential candidate will be a drag.

While Harrington, often upbeat anyway, is said to sincerely believe he can win, sources familiar with Republican efforts here point to different motives. Some signs point to the GOP bloodying Lesser ahead of the lower-turnout 2018 election. Others suggest the senate race is just a datamining opportunity for Baker’s reelection. Indeed, while both Baker and Polito have campaigned for Harrington, statewide politicos indicate their involvement is not unique among competitive races.

Gov. Charlie Baker in 2014. Baker campaign a fair amount for Harrington although not necessarily more than other GOPers. (WMassP&I)

Gov. Charlie Baker in 2014. Baker campaign a fair amount for Harrington although not necessarily more than other GOPers. (WMassP&I)

But whatever the motivation, Harrington’s case relies heavily on biography and presentation. A one-time political hand turned part-time cop and package store owner, he has served on Ludlow’s Select Board and School Committee and sought or considered some of the town’s other offices.

He paints his Republican transformation as a realization that the Democratic party has become too ideologically rigid, liberal and anti-business—a claim that would perplex many in the progressive movement. When he joined the GOP, he mentioned frequent demands for raises in the minimum wage as a Democratic party’s litmus tests he could not abide.

But broadly speaking those ideological grounds have not manifested as many concrete policy differences with Lesser. For example, at the Focus Springfield, he and Lesser largely agreed on opiates, opposition to marijuana legalization and women’s issues.

Instead, Harrington tried to affix a scarlet letter on Lesser, questioning his priorities and accusing him of higher ambitions. He claimed Lesser neglected veterans issues to chill with diplomats and put his signature rail study before funds for the Hampden District Attorney’s office.

The debate between Harrington and Lesser Monday October 10. The Reminder‘s Mike Dobbs moderated and The Republican‘s Shannony Young & WMassP&I’s Matt Szafranski posed questions to the candidates.

Lesser swatted these claims away. He noted his economic tour with Consul Yehuda Yaakov was aimed at drawing Israeli investment to the 413 and said the area delegation had to scramble to reverse spending cuts Baker imposed on the DA’s office, never mind adding funds to its budget.

Harrington addressing the fundraiser last Thursday, October 6. (WMassP&I)

Harrington addressing the fundraiser last Thursday, October 6. (WMassP&I)

Back at the fundraiser last week however, the focus was on getting to know voters in Chicopee, which he likely needs to overcome Lesser’s firewall in Belchertown, Longmeadow and Springfield. The job of Polito, emcee Brian Corridan and Harrington’s wife, Noel, was to vouch for the candidate.

“I can’t even imagine why someone wouldn’t want him in the job” Noel Harrington said in heartfelt remarks about her husband.

Of course, it’s not hard to imagine Lesser’s wife, saying something similar—augmented by his record serving in the very office in contention.