By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
BOSTON -- Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich entered a political landscape even less welcoming to Republicans than Massachusetts when he got his start in Georgia decades ago.
"I helped build the Georgia Republican Party. It was a long process," Gingrich told reporters in the Westin Boston Waterfront, where the Republican National Committee was holding a summer meeting Wednesday.
"And when I was first in Georgia there were fewer elected Republicans in Georgia than there are today elected Republicans in Massachusetts, and we had had no candidate for governor in 80 years, so by comparison this is a much stronger party than the Georgia GOP."
President Abraham Lincoln, who helped create the Republican Party, led the union forces in the Civil War against states such as Georgia that had seceded from the country. During the meeting Wednesday, Gingrich spent several hours in front of delegates and guests, dispensing wisdom garnered over a political career that spanned years atop the Republican-controlled House in the 1990s and a run for president last year.
"I admire him so much. To me, he's always been the big-idea guy," said Rep. Peter Durant, a Spencer Republican. Durant told the News Service that the idea that resonated most from Gingrich's closed-press Q&A was bringing abstract issues in government and politics down to "how does it affect the individual person.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus called GOP National Committeeman Ron Kaufman a few days after Patriot's Day, when bombs struck the Boston Marathon, and said he wanted to hold the summer meeting in Boston, Kaufman told reporters.
In Massachusetts, all statewide offices are currently held by Democrats, though a year ago Scott Brown held one of the Senate seats, and Republicans held the governorship from 1991 through 2006. Throughout those Republican administrations, the Legislature was held by Democrats.
Gingrich said the GOP can make gains in the Bay State by offering better ideas than the Democrats, being "cheerfully persistent" rather than negative, and listening to people.
"An awful lot of politicians don't mind telling you what they think," said Gingrich, who said listening is time-consuming. He said, "I think that there's an opportunity building some grass roots up, and I know there are a number of people working, particularly on the taxpayer side of it, trying to build a statewide, state legislative initiative to match what we've done at the governor's level."
State Republican Party Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes said the pump for Republican victories was primed by the freshly approved $500 million tax bill.
"We have a great really organic situation here with a return to Taxachusetts," Hughes told the News Service. She said, "There has been a focus to win legislative seats," and noted the party's success in picking up state legislative seats in 2010.
The party is also seeking to reclaim the corner office once Gov. Deval Patrick departs at the end of 2014.
"I hear a lot about Charlie Baker," Hughes said. She said, "No one's told me that they're in the race and declared yet. Whoever does would have a great shot."
"Our best friend here is the Democratic Legislature in Massachusetts," said Kaufman. He said President Barack Obama is the best topic for Republicans to discuss to garner support, and said, "I think there's a lot of buyer's remorse out there."
Kaufman said Republican are having a "fabulous year" in fundraising and he is "bullish" about the prospects in 2014.
Gabriel Gomez, who ran and lost in a special election against now Sen. Ed Markey, was scheduled to address the delegates Wednesday night in an event closed to the press. The Cohasset Republican told reporters before the event that Republicans need to get their "grassroots" campaigning and technology "in order" and run on a positive message.
"We can't just be the part of anti-Obama," Gomez said.
Gomez said all potential offices are "on the table," and when asked what he would be running for mentioned a 200-mile foot race in New Hampshire. The marathoner and former Navy SEAL said he would probably make it 25 miles. Gomez said potential gubernatorial and Senate candidates in 2014, Baker and Brown, are friends and he has not discussed his electoral considerations with them.
After Gomez's speech, Matt Borges, the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party and a Barrington, R.I. native, said Gomez and Maine Gov. Paul LePage had "incredibly compelling stories," and said he had led Ohio volunteers to campaign for Gomez.
"There was a rich tradition of a competitive environment, politically, in New England," said Borges, who said that "has waned."