By Corey Kane/BU Washington News Service
TAMPA—What a difference a convention makes.
In the past, the Massachusetts delegation to the quadrennial Republican gathering often has been relegated to the far reaches of the convention arena – in accordance with the state’s status as one of the least likely to go Republican in a presidential election.
“I remember we used to send excursions out to try and see the speeches,” state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr chuckled, recalling Bay State Republicans’ past seating arrangements.
In contrast, Tarr, R-Gloucester, noted that the Massachusetts delegation had one of the closest and most desirable positions in the hall to watch the podium speeches during the just-concluded Tampa gathering. “Now we see [other] delegations sending excursions past us,” he noted this week as the convention wound down.
Such positioning in the hall comes as a perquisite of a convention in which your state’s former governor is anointed as the nominee. The Massachusetts delegation also
had prime real estate outside the hall: While delegations from neighboring “blue” states such as New York and Connecticut found staying themselves in hotels up to 30 miles away from downtown Tampa, the Massachusetts delegation was housed in the convention’s headquarters hotel, the Tampa Marriott Waterside, just steps away from the convention hall.
Tarr is hoping that the visibility in Tampa is a precursor of better things to come for the Massachusetts GOP, and that the rise to national prominence of Bay Staters such as former Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. Scott Brown will presage a rebound for the GOP throughout New England. (At present, Tarr leads a minority of just four Republican members in the 40-member state Senate.)
“Massachusetts has for a long time produced talented people for the Republicans and national service,” Tarr said, citing such names as one-time state House Minority Leader Andrew Card, who went on to become chief of staff to President George W. Bush, and former Gov. Paul Cellucci, who spent four years as the Bush administration’s ambassador to Canada.
Amid meeting with GOP celebrities, Tarr said his main goal at this past week’s gathering was to help organize the Massachusetts delegation so that it carried a unified message upon its return home.
“We learned that we can play an important role not only nationally by supporting Governor Romney, but in the state as well,” he said.
Acknowledging that many members of the Massachusetts Republican delegation had differences with the party’s platform, Tarr said this unified message should focus on economic policy – including limited government, incentives to the private sector, and market-based health care – rather than social issues.
“If we focus on them, we’re going down a divided path,” he said in reference to the latter.
Turning to the presidential race, Tarr said Romney should focus on his ability to manage the state during his 2003-2006 gubernatorial tenure, despite facing a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature. Tarr charged that the Democratic majority had a long history of consistently raising taxes, and that the former governor deserves credit for standing up against the rising of the tide.
“Sometimes what you prevent from happening is just as important as what you make happen,” Tarr said.
With regard to the healthcare reform measure that Romney signed in 2006 – and which made him a source of suspicion among many conservatives during this year’s primary campaign – Tarr suggested that the governor could address his record by noting key differences between the Massachusetts law and the national reforms pushed through Congress by the Obama administration. Tarr said there was no revenue increase in the Massachusetts bill, and that it did not mandate as many requirements on the insurance companies.
Like other Massachusetts delegates to this past week’s conventions, Tarr is bullish on the re-election prospects of Brown, a former colleague in the state Senate.
“He needs to stay focused on what got him elected in the first place,” Tarr said. “Very hard work and a very strong connection to the people he represents.”
Tarr contended that a win by Brown in November could put Massachusetts in an enviable position if Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate with a slim majority. It would give Brown — who recent analyses show has voted less consistently for Republican positions than most of his other GOP Senate colleagues – increased leverage over the fate of key legislation, Tarr noted.