Massachusetts Republicans are in a state of confusion. Royall H. Switzler, their preprimary convention endorsee for governor, has abandoned his candidacy in the wake of disclosures that he lied about his military record.
Gregory S. Hyatt, whom Mr. Switzler beat for delegate backing at the mid-April GOP gathering, faces a challenge to his nomination papers. If successful, the move could force his name off the Sept. 16 primary ballot.
The state Ballot Law Commission will reach a decision in the next few weeks on the matter of allegations of forged signatures on some of his nomination papers.
Further complicating the GOP gubernatorial scene is the fact that Switzler's decision not to continue his candidacy came too late for his name to be withdrawn formally from the ballot.
Thus, regardless of whether or not Mr. Hyatt survives the challenge to his nomination papers, Bay State Republican voters will still have a candidate. And Switzler, a sixth-term state representative, still could get his party's nomination for chief executive.
All this in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 4 to 1 in voter registration and the GOP has not elected a governor since 1970.
Were Switzler to win the nomination, in spite of his noncandidacy, he could accept it and go on to campaign for head of state against reelection-bent Democratic Gov. Michael S. Dukakis. But a revived Switzler candidacy after the primary is unlikely in light of the finality with which he bowed out June 16.
Were he to win the primary and then decline the nomination, the Republican State Committee then could choose the GOP candidate for governor to oppose Governor Dukakis in the November election.
Coming up with a viable alternative candidate for governor could pose a problem because of the lack of time between the primary and the November election and the prospect of taking on a well-funded and well-known incumbent.
Bay State Republicans who orchestrated the 11th-hour Switzler draft at the party's convention two months ago have little enthusiasm for the Hyatt candidacy. They are convinced Hyatt, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress two years ago, is not the strongest potential gubernatorial candidate.
In an impassioned five-minute paid statement on TV Monday evening, Switzler quit the race. He apologized for his having misrepresented his military background, in which he had claimed to have been an Army captain serving in Vietnam. In fact he never served in Vietnam and was a sergeant in Korea. ``I hope some day I will have your forgiveness, but tonight I cannot reasonably expect your support,'' he said.
Switzler's decision came less than two weeks after he filed his nomination papers. It was then that he surprised fellow Republican supporters with his confession about his military service. Had he then withdrawn his candidacy within 48 hours, he could have removed his name from the ballot. Instead he spent the next 10 days pondering what to do.
Hyatt, who indicates he had not expected the Switzler decision, says he is ``neither happy nor sad. It is his decision.'' Hyatt, who helped quarterback the 1979 initiative petition that cut state property taxes, makes it clear he has no intention of being squeezed out of the governor's campaign.
Despite his determination to press on, Hyatt's candidacy was tarnished by leaders of a contractors group who criticized his work in helping them organize what proved to be an unsuccessful petition drive last fall. The statement came only days before the GOP convention.
The current challenge of certain Hyatt nomination papers comes from Democrats, not from members of his party. This, Hyatt suggests, is an attempt to block his candidacy, since his positions on various issues, unlike some of Switzler's, are opposite to those of the governor.
Specifically, Hyatt is an outspoken critic of the Bay State's mandatory seatbelt law, which the governor helped push through and Switzler supported. A Hyatt-spearheaded proposal to repeal the statute will be on the November statewide ballot.