Rejecting offers of debate, Geoff Diehl only agreed to forums on conservative radio. His campaign says that’s his strategy. | Panda Anku

The candidates eventually faced each other in just one, which took place nearly seven weeks before the September 6 primary on Carr’s show in the first, and most likely last, forum with the two candidates.

The relative lack of prime-time confrontations has woven into the fabric of the primaries, with Doughty pinning Donald Trump-backed Diehl for months to debate him and Diehl, comfortably ahead in public polls, regularly firing him.

But it also pointed to a broader dynamic taking root in some Republican circles. Diehl has built his campaign on a strong appeal to the GOP’s more conservative base, seeking the support of national Republican figures and falsely calling the 2020 election “rigged.” He easily won the support of a state party at a congress that showed his own shift to the right.

Calculating there’s little point in dabbing with big news outlets, Diehl stuck to the red — and relatively thin in Massachusetts — water of the conservative media, where his campaign argues he’s best at reaching those most likely to to vote in a primary. Unregistered voters were also able to cast their votes.

“It’s a Republican primary, and candidates should be speaking to a Republican primary audience,” said Amanda Orlando, Diehl’s campaign manager. “Jim Braude doesn’t have that.”

However, critics claim that Diehl shields itself from possibly unfriendly surveys. Hours after WBUR reported that Diehl declined the three-outlet consortium’s invitation, Diehl said he also declined to appear for an interview with the Globe’s editors before it makes a confirmation for the race.

Diehl called the trial a “charade” and the Globe “one of the most liberal newspapers in the nation,” arguing it would be a waste of time to appear.

“Republican primary voters do not turn to the Globe for updates on Republican politics because they know the paper is not open-minded enough to print fair and unbiased reports,” Diehl said.

Doughty, who has wavered between presenting himself as a conservative and a moderate Republican, appeared before the board earlier this week, his campaign said. Volunteers from his campaign also went on strike outside a Diehl fundraiser recently with signs that read: “Doughty agrees to debate 9 times. Diehl is hiding in the basement like Biden.”

“It’s about more than just debates. It’s any kind of press that isn’t kind — or press that he doesn’t think is kind,” Doughty said of Diehl.

Doughty, a first-time candidate, said without a competitive Democratic primary for governor — Attorney General Maura Healey is the presumptive nominee — Republicans went into the summer with an opportunity to grab voters’ attention with a series of high-profile forums. That has been lost, he argued.

“It’s a sad moment for Republicans,” said the Wrentham Republican. “Independents are the largest constituency in our state. You need them no matter which party you are in. And you have to do all the media.”

Diehl’s campaign says he has. Orlando said he has completed more than 300 campaign stops and more than 100 media interviews since stepping onto the field last summer. On Wednesday he had scheduled stops in Chicopee and Springfield and an interview with a local newspaper reporter in Greenfield.

Elsewhere, Republicans have openly avoided the press. In Florida, the state’s Republican Party banned many outlets from reporting a large party gathering, but allowed it in conservative outlets. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis later tweeted that “my message to her is to try to cry about it.”

In Georgia, US Senate nominee Herschel Walker has regularly withdrawn from events that deny the press access. GOP gubernatorial candidates from Ohio to Nevada to Nebraska have also avoided the debate phase, the Associated Press reported.

Individuals tend to interact selectively with media that they believe reflects their own views, said Costas Panagopoulos, chair of Northeastern University’s Department of Political Science.

This is happening with candidates on both ends of the political spectrum, he said, but is pronounced on the right because the mainstream media takes a more liberal perspective.

“This may be more myth than reality,” he said, but it’s a national issue nonetheless. “Not only is this pattern broader, it has been happening for a very long time. There are prominent personalities who have endeavored to solidify this point of view for their own benefit. I’m thinking mainly of Donald Trump, but he’s not the first to criticize the mainstream media. [Richard] Nixon and other presidents often did the same.”

Certainly, avoiding the debate panel isn’t a new phenomenon in the Massachusetts GOP primary, either. During his 2018 run for the US Senate, Diehl appeared in a lonely Boston Herald radio debate with his opponents John Kingston and Beth Lindstrom — the latter a regular on forums where she was the only candidate.

That same year, Governor Charlie Baker did not discuss his main opponent, Scott Lively, a divisive pastor who once said he was “against the gay agenda,” and wrote a book claiming the Nazi Party was controlled by gay men who hide their sexual orientation.

But when he ran for open governor in 2014, Baker regularly competed with his main opponent, Mark Fisher, in debates hosted by WBUR, The Globe and others.

Every other statewide candidate running in a competitive Democratic-Republican primary also agreed to participate in debates hosted by GBH or the WBUR/Globe/WCVB consortium that year, including Diehl’s running mate Leah Allen.

Orlando said the WRKO hosts did not agree to host a lieutenant governor’s forum, meaning the campaign had to look “for other avenues” for Allen to debate Kate Campanale, Doughty’s running mate.

And should he win the primary? Orlando said Diehl would debate on a “multitude” of networks against Healey, who has led him by gaping margins in public polls. After winning the Senate nomination in 2018, Diehl also agreed to three debates with Senator Elizabeth Warren.

In a general election, Orlando said, “the voting universe is different.”

“He would be willing to have a lot of debates,” she said.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout. Samantha J. Gross can be reached at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.

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